LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Nathan Chen earned his lowest free skate score in over a year.
Adam Rippon dislocated his shoulder during his free skate.
And yet the U.S. teammates and training mates out of Lakewood, California, still earned gold and silver, respectively, at the 2017 Bridgestone Skate America on Saturday evening.
According to fans tweeting about the event, they were skating on “cursed ice” at the Herb Brooks Arena, home to the famed Miracle on Ice men’s hockey game from the Olympic Winter Games Lake Placid 1980.
It was a series of unfortunate events that started with Israel’s Daniel Samohin leaving the ice in the middle of his program with a dislocated shoulder.
Three skaters later, Rippon’s free skate was delayed when a referee whistled him over to the side of the boards and asked that he pick up bugs – yes, bugs – from the ice before performing. The 28-year-old agreed so long as he was given an additional 30 seconds before skating. And he was.
Immediately after, Chen, the final skater of the night, performed one of the worst programs of his senior career, earning a score of 171.76. It was still the second-highest score in the free skate, but the last time he scored that low was his senior international debut, the 2016 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic, where he received a 168.94.
Of Chen’s five planned quadruple jumps, he attempted four, which included falling on his quad toeloop and putting his hand down on his quad flip.
While the reigning U.S. and Four Continents champion said he has experienced similar days in practice, the experience of struggling so much at a competition was new to him.
“Very disappointed with today,” Chen said, evaluating his free skate performance. “I came in here with a lot more expectations in terms of what I was going to do. I wanted to hit the quads, but I used a lot of energy on that first (quadruple Lutz) since it was a little off in the six-minute warmup. I exerted too much energy there and then it took me a little bit to recalculate; I didn’t recalculate properly and so the rest of the program went downhill from there.”
The 18-year-old apologized to coach Rafael Arutunian after receiving his score, later saying the two had worked very hard on his performance and that it did not show in Lake Placid.
Thanks to his 15-plus-point lead after the short program, Chen was still able to secure gold at the event, ahead of Rippon, who won the free skate with a score of 177.41.
Chen's total score was 275.88, while Rippon finished with 266.45 and Russia's Sergei Voronov earned bronze with a total of 257.49.
Rippon’s free skate will likely go down as one of the more memorable in his lengthy skating career. It started with the bizarre experience of delaying his program to rid the ice of bugs.
“So you let me know if you have a bug problem, now I’m really good at cleaning them up,” Rippon told reporters after.
Once the 2016 U.S. champion actually started skating, the program began with a quad Lutz that caused him to re-dislocate his right shoulder – an injury he first dealt with in early September. He then shook it off and popped it back in place during his program.
“I went around and I was looking at Raf and I’m like, ‘Ugh, you know what, I’m 28, I don’t have time to start over.’ So once I got it back into place, I said, you know what, I want my check, I’m going to do the rest of this program,” Rippon said.
“I got off the ice and saw (U.S. Figure Skating President Samuel Auxier), and I said, ‘You know what, you could throw rocks at me, you could blow the whistle at me, there could be a bunch of bugs on the ice that I need to clean up before, but I’m going to do everything I can to skate my best and nothing’s going to stop me from going where I need to go.’”
Where both Chen and Rippon need to go next is the Grand Prix Final, set for Dec. 7-10 in Nagoya, Japan. The top six men from the season’s six grand prix events qualify for the Final and with two golds and two silvers, respectively, on their season, Chen and Rippon locked in their spots in Nagoya. Chen is the only men’s athlete to win both his grand prix assignments this season.
Chen and Rippon also both qualified for the Grand Prix Final last season, and are the only American men to make the event in the past six seasons.
“It’s super exciting that Adam and I both made the Final for the second year,” Chen said. “We train together and I see all the work that he put in; he’s very determined, he works very, very hard, and so I’m very happy for him that that hard work is showing.”
The Grand Prix Final qualification says a lot for their Olympic prospects as well. The three-member men’s Olympic team will be determined in early January by performances at three tiers of events across the 2016-17 and 2017-18 season. The top tier includes the 2018 U.S. championships, 2017 Grand Prix Final and 2017 world championships.
“For American skating, I think it says a lot,” Rippon said of their performances in the grand prix series. “It says that in the most important year, an Olympic year, that we’re here and we’re here to challenge for medals in the individual event and we’re here to challenge for the gold medal in the team event.”