By Steve Drumwright | Oct. 20, 2018, 1:58 a.m. (ET)

Nathan Chen performs at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating: Skate America on Oct. 19, 2018 in Everett, Wash. 

 

There is something about the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating that brings out the best in Nathan Chen.

The 19-year-old from Utah turned in a bright and nearly flawless performance Friday during the men’s short program at Skate America in Everett, Washington. Chen, who was fifth in the 2018 Olympic Games PyeongChang, grabbing the lead with a score of 90.58.

The Yale freshman, who easily won the Grand Prix Final last season after taking second in 2016, was strong throughout the short program, his only noticeable flaw coming when he did not cleanly land a quad flip.

Chen is known for his quad jumps — he landed six of them in the PyeongChang free skate and surged up the leaderboard after a disappointing short program — enters Saturday’s free skate with a comfortable lead over the Czech Republic’s Michael Brezina  (82.09) and Malaysia’s Julian Zhi Jie Yee (81.52).

Meanwhile, Vincent Zhou, who was sixth in PyeongChang, was stunned when his score of 76.38 was posted. The Californian turned to his coaches and said, “What?” as if not understanding how his score could have been so low. Zhou is sixth, just ahead of Jimmy Ma, the American who was making his Grand Prix debut and is seventh at 71.53.

It was a frustrating night for the American pairs. All three had falls, with the most surprising coming when Timothy LeDuc fell on a solo jump. It left LeDuc and Ashley Cain in fourth at 57.72 going into Saturday’s free skate.

Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, the bronze medalists in PyeongChang, are fifth after posting a 57.31, while Nica Digerness and Danny Neudecker made their Grand Prix debuts and had a score of 51.56 that left them in seventh.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, the favorites coming in, grabbed the lead at 71.24, with fellow Russians Alisa Efimova and Alexander Korovin next at 62.38.

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The women’s and ice dancing short programs are Saturday, with the free skates on Sunday.

Bradie Tennell, the reigning national champion who won the Olympic bronze medal in PyeongChang, leads the U.S. contingent on the women’s side, while Americans Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue are the favorite in ice dancing. Japan’s Satoko Miyahara, a two-time world medalist, won the women’s Skate America title last year and is the headliner in a star-studded competition.

There are 18 Americans, including seven Olympians, competing this weekend.

Skate America is the first stop on the Grand Prix of Figure Skating schedule this season. The seven events will be held on consecutive weeks, with the next stop being Skate Canada (October 26-28) in Laval, Quebec. Other events will be in Finland (November 2-4), Japan (November 9-11), Russia (November 16-18) and France (November 23-25) before returning to Canada for the Grand Prix Final in Vancouver (December 6-9).

This was also the first major event with the ISU’s new scoring rules. Grade of execution now has a wider range (minus-5 to plus-5), jumps were given new score values and there is more definition as to how falls and “serious errors” affect the program component score.

Steve Drumwright is a journalist based in Murrieta, California. He is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.