Ice Network

Honda wins short program in senior debut in Utah

Chen sits close behind; Nagasu attempts, receives credit for triple axel
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Marin Honda's debut on the senior circuit could not have gone any better, as the 16-year-old won the short program to take a slim lead over Karen Chen. -Melissa Majchrzak

SALT LAKE CITY - There was Marin Honda, the highly-touted debutante on the senior international circuit, flowing almost languidly across the ice with an incredible lightness of being that matched the mood of her music, the beloved old standard, "Smile."

There was Karen Chen, the reigning U.S. champion, driving across the ice with an intensity that captured the fiery tone of her music, "El Tango de Roxanne."

There were the little things: Honda smiling every time the word came up in the lyrics, Chen brushing a hand over her left cheek when the lyrics called for a caress of the skin.

These were two captivating skaters. The difference between them in Friday's short program at the 2017 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic turned out to be mistakes Chen made on jumping passes -- an under-rotated triple toe loop at the end of her jump combination and a hand down on the landing of a triple loop.

"I'm happy I was able to skate relatively clean," Chen said.

Honda won, 66.90 to 66.18, because of her substantial edge in technical scores (2.32). The 2016 world junior champion and 2017 world junior runner-up received surprisingly low component scores from a consistently tough judging panel.

And, there was Mirai Nagasu, who became the first U.S. woman both to attempt and receive credit for a triple axel since Kimmie Meissner in 2005. Nagasu wound up third with 63.81 points, dragged down by errors on the landing of the axel and her subsequent triple jump.

"I made a lot of mistakes," Nagasu said. "Even with the mistakes, I got a pretty good score. Last year, I would have been super stoked to be in the 60's."

Last year, Chen's breathtaking short program to music from "On Golden Pond" created the impression ("calming, beautiful, elegant," she said) left by Honda's performance today. The U.S. skater chose a starkly -- and darkly -- different style "to put me in a fighting mood for the Olympic year."

"It was definitely a little challenging to bring out that intensity," Chen said. "But every time I heard (the music), I felt a rush of energy."

Honda was using her short program from last season for what she said would be the last time. Her new program remains under wraps.

"I just had so much fun today as a senior for the first time," Honda said, adding that she was satisfied with her performance.

Nagasu -- the only U.S. woman currently doing a triple axel -- feels the jump could give her an edge in the battle for a spot on the 2018 Olympic team after her bitter disappointment in 2014. She was third at the U.S. championships that year but bypassed for the Sochi Games in favor of fourth-place Ashley Wagner because Wagner's record over the previous year checked off more boxes in the selection process.

So, Nagasu has committed to using the triple axel in every program this season.

"I have nothing to lose," she said. "I want to prove I am willing to do whatever it takes to make the Olympic team. I'm building a résumé. I learned from last time you can't rely just on doing well at nationals."

She received full base value credit for the triple axel but clunked two-footed on the landing for a -1.6 GOE (Grade of Execution). Then she stepped out of the landing on her triple flip (-1.54).

"It (the axel execution) wasn't what I wanted, but I went for it, so I'm really happy," she said. "I rushed the flip. From working with a sports psychologist, I have learned my biggest downfall is when I make a mistake, I start to rush everything."

Mariah Bell, a U.S. world team member last season, also found herself in a hurry.

Bell, who wound up fourth with 60.68 points after falling on the second jump in her combination, decided after Champs Camp three weeks ago to return to last year's short program, "Roxie," from the musical, Chicago.

Although it is familiar to her, there was a readjustment required as she prepared for her first real competition since worlds in March, when she finished 12th.

"Now I'll be honing in on technique, getting it more consistent," she said.