Ice Network

Chen falls to earth, still wins Skate America crown

Rippon fights through shoulder injury to take silver; Voronov claims bronze
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Nathan Chen's free skate was riddled with mistakes, but in the end, the 15-point lead the American skater carried into the day held up, and he came away with the gold medal. That result, combined with his first-place finish at the Rostelecom Cup, qualified Chen for the Grand Prix Final for the second year in a row. -Getty Images

The seemingly easy glide to the top Nathan Chen has enjoyed this season took an unexpected detour at 2017 Bridgestone Skate America at the Lake Placid Olympic Center on Saturday, when the 18-year-old fell on two quads and popped two other jumps, losing the free skate to training partner Adam Rippon.

Chen's excellent short program Friday -- which gave the skater a 15-point lead -- meant he still won his second Grand Prix of the season, but the disastrous program was a jarring wake-up call.

"I used a lot of energy on the first (quad) lutz because it was a little off, and in the six-minute warm-up I think I exerted too much energy there," Chen said. "(After missing the quad flip) it took me a little bit to recalculate, and I didn't recalculate properly, so the rest of the program went downhill from there. It was good experience, good things to learn from."

Chen's semi-meltdown, which also included a popped triple axel, obscured the fact that he did land two quad lutzes -- the first time that has ever been done in a program -- and showed off nuanced steps and fine spins in his Mao's Last Dancer program, choreographed by Lori Nichol.

Again, equipment issues reared their ugly head this week for Chen. On Friday, he performed his short with a nicked skate blade but replaced it for the free.

"I think that was a bad call," he said. "It was a little too sharp on the inside edge, and every time I pressed into it for sal(chow), toe and even flip, it would catch into the ice way harder than I was used to. ... At worlds (last season), I had an extra pair of boots and I didn't want to risk (changing to them), so here I risked it. Again, good to learn from."

Rafael Arutunian, who coaches Chen and Rippon in Lakewood, California, hinted at other challenges confronting his young protégé.

"There (are) a lot of issues, not only blades, that I don't want to talk about," he said. "I hope we will get him at the right time, at the right point, in good shape. He did good programs already (this season) with (quad) loops and (triple) axels.

"It's always something. I watch other skaters as well, and they don't talk about problems, but I can see problems."

Pressed for details, Arutunian added, "Technique, and confidence, and blades and injuries, so many things around. We cannot talk about everything because it is very private and we are working on it."

Chen's problems were hardly the only drama that played out Saturday. Skating eighth in the event, Israel's Daniel Samohin, the 2016 world junior champion, fell hard on a quad, grasped his left shoulder and left the ice. He went to a local hospital, where he was diagnosed with a dislocated shoulder.

Rippon, too, had his share of travails. After waiting an unusually long time on the ice for his name to be called, the event referee whistled and directed him to some dead insects, which he picked up and discarded. Then, after falling on his opening quad lutz attempt, Rippon grabbed his right shoulder and winced for a moment before resuming his free to "Arrival of the Birds" and "O" by Coldplay.

The injury didn't seem to affect him. Rippon delivered a compelling performance with near flawless jumps, landing a stellar triple flip-triple loop combination and two triple axels, and executing Benji Schwimmer's choreography with sensitivity and fine detail. His 177.41 points were a new personal best, and he won the silver medal with 266.45 points.

"Listen, I'm 28, I have a lot of experience, I have a goal and I'm focused, and literally nothing is going to get in my way," Rippon said. "I'm ready for anything. I told Sam Auxier, our (U.S. Figure Skating) president, that you can throw rocks and bricks and put bugs on the ice -- it doesn't matter. I'm going to do my job, and I'm going to go out there. I'm a fighter, and I'm a warrior."

Both Chen and Rippon qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Nagoya, Japan, Dec. 6-9.

Russian veteran Sergei Voronov captured the bronze medal and another of the six spots at the Grand Prix Final with a solid, if unspectacular, free skate to "Sarabande Suite (Aeternae)" that included two solid quad toes and a strong triple axel combination. He ended with 257.49 points and the bronze medal.

"So far, this season has been successful, and I think this is due to my coach (Inna Goncharenko) and choreographers (Anna Bilibina and Misha Ge), and also myself, because I have been working very hard," he said.

World bronze medalist Boyang Jin of China, who said Friday he was skating with two sprained ankles, fought through his free skate, omitting his trademark quad lutz and having shaky landings on a quad toe, quad salchow and a few other jumps. Still, his program was good enough for 168.06 points and fourth place, which earned the Cup of China silver medalist a spot at the Grand Prix Final.

"Regardless of how I felt with my ankles, I was able to do my free skate, so I am happy with that," Jin said through an interpreter. "I was overall satisfied with my performance, regardless of the mistakes. I was pretty much off of the ice after Cup of China, getting therapy and treatment from the Chinese national team (for the ankles), and I will continue to do so after Skate America."

Jin's teammate, Han Yan, was fifth with 228.33 points.

Ross Miner placed fifth in the free and sixth overall with a solid free to a Queen medley, hitting strong triple axel and triple lutz combinations after doubling an intended opening quad salchow. He ended with 219.62 points.

"That was by far probably the most excited crowd I've ever skated in front of in America. Maybe Boston nationals was the same, but, boy, Lake Placid did a nice job getting people in this building," Miner said. "That was really fun and exciting."

Firus gets called in at 11th hour

Liam Firus was just waking up Wednesday, after a grueling trip home to Montreal from Poland, where he won bronze at the Warsaw Cup. At 7 a.m., he saw a text from Michael Slipchuk, Skate Canada's high performance director, asking him to call.

"I was exhausted, so I texted back, 'Can I call in 30 minutes?' He texted, 'ASAP would be good.'"

So he called and was told, "Get packed -- you're going to Skate America."

Firus trained, did some laundry and made the three-hour drive to Lake Placid, where he had been nominated as a substitute for the injured Jorik Hendrickx.

"Every drop-out this year, I was hoping to get the call, but I never did," he said. "It's interesting how it finally ended up happening."

Firus placed eighth in Lake Placid.