(L-R) Jason Brown, Nathan Chen and Alexei Krasnozhon (Russia) posing after the men's free skate event at 2019 Skate America on Oct. 19, 2019 in Las Vegas.
LAS VEGAS – When Nathan Chen steps onto competition ice, it has become a given that he will win.
And the 20-year-old added to his never-ending list of feats (and wins) on Saturday afternoon when he earned the 2019 Skate America title. It is his third in a row, marking the first time a man has won three consecutive Skate America titles – and the first time an American has won three overall – since Todd Eldredge’s four from 1994-1997.
The records and ‘first’s do not faze Chen. He simply enjoys competing and the constant strive for perfection.
“I love to compete,” he said. “I only have a couple opportunities every season to compete, so to have an opportunity like this in front of this crowd is amazing.”
Chen scored 196.38 in his free skate for a 299.09 total to claim the gold with exactly 45 points more than 2014 U.S. Olympian Jason Brown, whose silver medal marked the seventh time U.S. men have gone 1-2 in Skate America history.
Brown’s strong free skate brought him from fourth up to second (171.64 free, 255.09 total), while Dmitri Aliev of Russia took the bronze with a 156.98 free and 253.55 total.
Chen’s medal is his sixth consecutive grand prix gold on the circuit, to go along with the back-to-back Grand Prix Final titles he has won. In fact, he has won every individual competition – now seven – he has entered since finishing fifth at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018.
That string of success – which also includes two world titles – has not been seen in men’s figure skating since Canadian Patrick Chan won nine golds across the 2010-11 and 2011-12 seasons.
Again, those stats are hardly on Chen’s radar. The prospective statistics and data science major is instead focused on his sophomore year at Yale – and portraying a new persona on the ice this season.
Chen’s free skate is set to a medley from the “Rocketman” soundtrack – including “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” “Rocketman” and “Bennie and the Jets” – and is highlighted by an unexpected, crowd-pleasing hip-hop breakdown section toward the end.
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The program was dreamt up and choreographed by Marie-France Dubreuil, a Canadian ice dance coach.
“She thought that the music was really hip, really popular. It’s super different from what I did last year, and that’s the point. Every year we want to do something completely different with the music, with the program, with the style,” Chen said.
Noted dance choreographer Sam Chouinard put together the hip-hop section.
“I think it’s a lot of fun,” said Chen. “I was a little skeptical at the beginning of the choreography process, just because not many people have done it. The thing that persuaded me was that it’s less than 30 seconds of the program at the very end, and it comes from the actual music; it’s not like we’re just throwing in some random rap that makes no sense. It’s still part of the music, it’s part of “Bennie and the Jets,” and I think it’s a lot of fun.”
Brown’s music, on the other hand, had a very different feeling.
He debuted his “Schindler’s List” free skate, music to which he has long wanted to skate.
“It was just figuring out when the right time was and when I was mature enough to fully be able to tell it the way that I want to tell it or perform it the way I know I’m capable of,” Brown said. “And I think it took until now. And I was talking to my choreographer, David Wilson, when we sat down to decide the music for the year, and it wasn’t even on the table, but I said, for whatever reason I have always wanted to skate to this but I never have. And he said we’re doing it, and he pushed everything off the table and said this is the program we’re going to use, and we just went full into it.”
Brown made his season debut this week in Las Vegas, but not for lack of trying.
The 24-year-old had to withdraw from last month’s Nebelhorn Trophy after a late August car crash left him with whiplash and a concussion.
“I was working with PTs and neurologists, trying to make a plan and get me fully back on track,” Brown explained. “It took me until two weeks ago that I could start spinning again. I would get these crippling headaches from spinning, so that was very frustrating because spins are something that I really love, and for me to compete I really need to show the best spins that I possibly can to get as many points and maximize the content.
“It’s been a really difficult journey of just having to listen to your body. I was really frustrated that I had to withdraw from my senior B earlier this season, but hopefully taking the time to recover properly will pay off.”
When his free skate ended, Brown lay still on the ice, holding the program’s ending pose far longer than needed. He was relieved he had made it through his first competition of the season relatively unscathed and taking in the enormity of what he had just accomplished – skating a medal-worthy performance in his first competition of the season, eight weeks after a concussion, to music that held immense meaning to him and in front of a boisterous home country crowd.