ST. PAUL, Minn. -- Sixteen-year-old Nathan Chen finished fourth in the short program Friday at the 2016 Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and he’s an outside contender to earn one of the three U.S. spots at the World Figure Skating Championships this spring in Boston.
But after completing two quadruple — four-spin — jumps in the short program, he was hard to ignore.
“For him to be so young and be able to do that is a huge step in our sport,” said Max Aaron, 23, who lead after the short program with 91.83 points.
Added Chen’s 26-year-old training partner Adam Rippon: “I think Nathan getting two quads in the short program is really important for the development of U.S. figure skating. I think it’s what’s happening in the world right now.”
Indeed, quads are now commonplace among the world’s elite. Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the defending Olympic champion, completed two of them in the short program and three more in the free skate en route to winning the ISU Grand Prix Final last month in Barcelona, Spain.
The aggressive quad jumps are much less common in the United States. Aaron had a quad-triple combination Friday, but second-place Ross Miner (90.90 points) and third-place Rippon (88.01) didn’t attempt any.
In fact, Chen, who scored 86.33, became the first U.S. man — ever — to land two quads in a short program at the U.S. championships. Even though a bad landing on his opening quad Salchow to triple toe loop combination forced him to abandon the second jump, he made up for it by adding the triple to his other quad, a toe loop.
For a U.S. men’s program that hasn’t produced a medalist at a world championships or Olympic Winter Games since Evan Lysacek’s 2010 Olympic gold medal, Chen’s performance was what Aaron termed a “wake-up call.”
“If it takes a 16-year-old boy to push the limit in our U.S. (program), then that’s what it’s going to take,” Aaron said.
Rippon, a skater known more for his artistry than big jumps, took a different approach.
“For me personally, I’ve really focused on my own performances and what can I do to get the most amount of points out of my performances?” he said. “I skate with Nathan every day, and he tries four quads in a program, he tries three, he does two in his short. And I mean I’m 26 and he’s 16, so I use that to my advantage, where I’m going to let him do that, but at this point in my career I know that I can spin better, I know that I can skate faster.
“I think we push each other because I think Nathan is an incredible skater, I think he is the future. But right now I think we want to be the present.”
Chen wasn’t perfect on the night, putting a hand down on his triple Axel and struggling on a spin. And with last year’s first- and third-place finishers missing due to injuries, fourth place in the short program might not turn many heads.
But in the ever-athletic world of men’s figure skating, it was Chen who made the most convincing case for being the next great U.S. hope in the sport.