LAKE PLACID, N.Y. -- Nine years, five months and 24 days separate Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon in age.
It’s a fact the last two U.S. men’s figure skating champions were reminded of Friday night during the press conference for the men’s short program at 2017 Bridgestone Skate America, where Chen and Rippon stood first and second, respectively.
“It was really exciting for me to be in America for my fourth-ever grand prix,” Chen, 18 and the 2017 U.S. champion, began his opening statement.
Rippon, meanwhile, started his with, “I was very excited to be here at Skate America, at my 21st grand prix – a little more than four.”
While Rippon, 28 and the 2016 U.S. champion, has been competing on the senior grand prix circuit since the 2008-09 season and Chen made his senior international debut just last year, the drastic age difference has not stopped them from contending for the top spot on the podium at every competition they enter – and from proving themselves as top contenders for spots on the three-man 2018 U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team.
“I think we make a good team,” Rippon said of the duo, who train together in Lakewood, California. “I think we’d make an even better Olympic team.”
Chen leads the standings going into Saturday’s free skate with a personal best score of 104.12, exactly one point higher than the mark he set at the 2017 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, which he won in the arena that will host this February’s Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
Rippon also set a new personal best of 89.04, surpassing his 87.86 from the 2016 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic. Russia’s Sergei Voronov is in third with a score of 87.51, while Team USA’s Ross Miner sits in eighth after scoring 71.59.
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The biggest difference for both Chen and Rippon this season is their comfort with – and passion for – their programs.
Chen skated his short to “Nemesis” by Benjamin Clemtine, a program he says the audience can really get into and clap along with.
“I definitely feel that when I’m performing it – even in practice when I’m just alone on the ice, when the music’s playing, I really feel the character and feel like I can get into it, rather than some of the other pieces I’ve skated to in the past where I don’t feel like I connect so well,” Chen explained. “I’m very excited with this short program and I’m glad I’ve had the opportunity to compete it a couple times.”
Rippon started his season with a program to his own version of Rihanna’s “Diamonds,” but later reverted to his short program from last season, performed to a medley that includes “Let Me Think About It” by Ida Corr vs. Fedde Le Grand.
“When I got it last year, all I was thinking was, ‘These are my Olympic programs,’” said Rippon, who also kept his free skate from last season.
He noted about initially choosing to sing “Diamonds” and later backing away, “I wanted something that would really embody who I was and show me as a well-rounded person, but ironically, I feel like this trashy dance club program embodies me better than my own voice could, so sometimes actions do speak louder than words.”
Both Chen and Rippon are expected to qualify for the Grand Prix Final – barring disaster in the free skate – which would also mark the third international medal of the season in as many outings for each skater.
Chen started his season with gold at the U.S. International Classic and followed that up with another win at his first grand prix of the season, Rostelecom Cup, where he beat reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.
Rippon earned bronze at the Finlandia Trophy, his first competition back since a foot injury sidelined him from defending his title at the 2017 national championships, and silver at his first grand prix, NHK Trophy.
Competing at the Grand Prix Final will only help their chances of making the Olympic team, which is decided based on performances from various events over the past season that are placed into three tiers. Tier 1 includes the 2018 U.S. championships, 2017 Grand Prix Final and 2017 world championships, while Tier 2 includes the 2017 grand prix competitions and 2017 Four Continents.
“The only thing (qualifying for the Grand Prix Final) would mean is another check on the criteria of going to the Olympics,” Rippon said.