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Vincent Zhou Runs Away With Surprising Skate America Championship

By Lynn Rutherford | Oct. 24, 2021, 11:15 a.m. (ET)

Vincent Zhou reacts after competing in the Mens Free Program during the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America at on Oct. 23, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada. 


LAS VEGAS — A spectacular Vincent Zhou easily held off Nathan Chen’s challenge in the men’s free skate at Skate America on Saturday at the Orleans Arena, winning his first Grand Prix title and snapping Chen’s streak of 14 consecutive titles that covered three-plus seasons.

“I don’t think it’s sunk in yet,” Zhou said. “I didn’t really expect this result. What I did expect of myself was to be as well prepared and well trained as I possibly could be, and focusing on that every day at home led to the seemingly impossible becom(ing) possible.”

When added to Friday’s short program scores, Zhou won gold with 295.56 points, and Japan’s Shoma Uno took silver with 270.68 points. Despite placing second in the free skate, Chen — who finished fourth in the short program — settled for bronze with 269.37 points.

It is the first time Zhou has defeated Chen, who is a year older, in senior competition. The win comes on the eve of Zhou’s birthday — the Palo Alto, California, native turns 21 on Sunday.
Zhou credited getting an early start this season — Skate America is his fourth competition — as well as superior preparation and good health, for his win.

“My training this year has been by far the most consistent and productive training I have ever had,” he said. “Being well prepared, training to perform under whatever circumstances, is really paying off. ... It’s just all about managing the ups and downs, not letting anything get into my head, working hard, keeping the goals in mind.”

For his part, Chen shrugged off the end of his winning streak, which had stretched back to the 2018 World Figure Skating Championships.  

“It is not devastating,” he said. “It was inevitably going to end (at) some point in time. ... I am really proud of the guys up here. If anyone was going to break it, I’m glad it was (Vincent).”

The two Team USA athletes both put on powerful technical displays in their free skates. Zhou attempted, and landed, five quadruple jumps, while Chen tried six quads, landing four and doubling out of the other two.

“Trying and accomplish(ing) are very different things, right?” Chen said. “I ended up doing four. ... The more you put out, the more risky it is. Is it worth it, I don't know. It depends on the day, I guess.”

Zhou’s free skate, set to the “Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon” soundtrack, is far more seasoned, choreographically layered and compelling than Chen’s program to Mozart selections. Zhou first performed it during the 2018-19 season, winning the world bronze medal.

“I think it’s a very strong all-around program, it fits my character — well, it’s exciting,” he said. “I’m able to move to it well, it has a strong ending.”

The judges agreed: they awarded Zhou 198.13 points for his free skate, while Chen earned 186.48 points. 

Zhou had the last word at the press conference, tipping his hat to his longtime rival.

“Obviously, I don’t expect to win everything, I’m not Nathan Chen,” he said. “It’s an honor to compete in such a deep men’s field and an honor to win the gold medal. ... We are going to take this for what it is and ride the momentum and keep moving forward.”

Jimmy Ma, who sat third after Friday’s short program, was 10th in the free skate and slipped to fifth overall with a career-high 228.12 points.

“I don’t have as many expensive things (quads) as some of the other competitors here, but what I know I can do, I can do right,” said the charismatic Ma, who was a hit with the Las Vegas audience. “The big things for me are skating with speed, skating with power, skating with passion.”

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier compete in the Pairs Free Program during the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America on Oct. 23, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Knierim, Frazier take second in free skate

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier brought the Las Vegas crowd to its feet with an electric performance to “Fix You” that brought with it 136.60 points, a new international best.

The U.S. champions placed second in the free skate, but it was not enough to overcome the deficit after their fifth-place short program and win a medal. They finished fourth overall with a score of 202.97. Two-time European champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia won gold with 222.50 points.

“That program was just the beginning of what we are capable of, that program was scratching the service compared to what we do at home without any nerves and adrenaline,” said Knierim, 30. “At home we actually skate stronger, faster, cleaner.”

On Friday, Frazier fell on a triple toe loop jump in the pair’s short program. But Saturday, it was clear sailing, with both skaters landing triple toe combinations and triple salchow jumps, and Knierim staying upright on two throw triple jumps.

More importantly, they delivered Renee Roca’s exciting, free-flowing choreography with style and polish, especially the lifts.

“I did too much thinking yesterday, and when you’re at these events, you just got to deal,” said Frazier, 29. “Yesterday, I was thinking. Today, I was doing.”

“We were pretty discouraged after the short,” Knierim said. “It was hard to look at the levels being so low, we have to go back home and clean that up. Today, we wanted to make a statement that we belong in the last warmup group (top four).”

The skaters, who teamed up in the spring of 2020 after long careers with other partners, are coached by three-time U.S. pairs champions Jenni Meno and Todd Sand in Irvine, California. Meno thinks their matching tough work ethics set them apart.

“Alexa and Brandon are very capable of breaking into the top five or six in the world,” she said. “From the beginning, they had a very common goal. They train like they are at a competition every single day. It’s impressive.”

Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson, who train alongside Knierim and Frazier in Irvine, showed superb lifts and strong throws in their free to “Who Wants to Live Forever,” but both skaters made major mistakes on individual triple jumps. They earned 128.55 points, also a new international best, and placed fifth at 197.42.

“It wasn’t really the program we wanted to skate, but knowing we can achieve that high score with the two big (jumping) errors really says something about the work we’ve been putting in the past year,” Calalang said.

Chelsea Liu and Danny O’Shea, who also train with Meno and Sand in Irvine, placed seventh with 175.40 points.

Rika Miura and Ryuichi Kihara’s second-place finish made history, the first Japanese pair to win a Grand Prix medal with a score of 208.20. Russia’s world bronze medalists, Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, took bronze at 205.53.

Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue compete during the Ice Dance Short Program of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America on Oct. 23, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Hubbell, Donohue near fourth straight crown

In the rhythm dance hip-hop rumble, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue edged Team USA rivals Madison Chock and Evan Bates, 83.58-82.55, to take a slim lead into Sunday’s free dance final.

Since 2018, the couples have trained together under coaches Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer at the Ice Academy of Montreal (I.AM). Their hip-hop selections are a study in contrasts: raw energy and power versus more subtle pop-techno.

Reigning U.S. champions Hubbell and Donohue — winners of three consecutive Skate America titles — arrived in Las Vegas with a Janet Jackson medley, while Chock and Bates chose Billie Eilish selections. Ironically, Eilish was Dubreuil’s original recommendation for Hubbell and Donohue.

“We tried it on the ice and we just thought, ‘No,’” Hubbell said. “At least for us, it just felt like it was highlighting the things that we do naturally, but not really lifting up the things that people don't see in us. It wasn't vibing.”

When one of the I.AM choreographers, Sam Chouinard, played some Jackson music during training, Hubbell and Donohue decided it was just the ticket.

“So we went to (Dubreuil) and she was like, ‘Really? You saw that?’" Hubbell said. “And she said, ‘I really thought you would go more the Billie route. But, I guess, if you feel inclined.’ So we started doing some off-ice, and we worked with Vincent Noiseux, who was one of Janet Jackson’s backup dancers.”

In addition to interpreting a street dance rhythm, couples must execute a sequence of the Midnight Blues, a pattern dance that requires strong edges and deep-knee action — specialties of Hubbell and Donohue. After winning the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic last month, the skaters tweaked this portion of their program.

“We made a new transition at the beginning on the blues music to pull in the crowd, as well as adding difficulty in the blues in our holds,” Hubbell said. “Since it’s a pattern everyone has to do, we wanted to do something to stand out.”

Hubbell and Donohue achieved the event’s highest score for their Midnight Blues pattern, although there is room to improve. Several elements of both couples gained lower-than-expected levels from the event’s technical panel.

“We definitely left a lot of points on the table,” Hubbell said. “We are hoping with extra technical points, we get (our score) closer to 90, but today, it was enough.”

Haguenauer called the Skate America technical panel “very, very strict.”

“I don’t say it’s not fair, but when I see junior teams getting some Level 3s and here, the top teams in the world just getting Level 1 and 2, I think there is a problem for me in the uniformity of the technical panels across competitions,” he said.

Chock and Bates, too, missed some levels. Their closing midline steps gained just Level 1. (The highest possible score is a Level 4.)

“We definitely skated better, we had a lot more attack than at (Finlandia Trophy) two weeks ago,” Bates said. “We came off the ice not expecting the levels to be so low. But that’s OK, we felt we really attacked the program and it was a step up from Finland.”

Canadians Laurence Fournier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen sit third with 75.33 points. Competing their second season at the senior level, Molly Cesanek and Yehor Yehorov — the third U.S. pair — had a spirited outing to Bruno Mars and Beyoncé tunes, earning 61.07 points for ninth place.

Amber Glenn competes during the Women's Short Program of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America on Oct. 23, 2021 in Las Vegas, Nevada.


Russians in position to sweep women’s event

To no one’s surprise, Russian skaters dominated the women’s short program, with Alexandra Trusova (77.69), Daria Usacheva (76.71) and Kseniia Sinetsyna (71.51) grabbing the top three positions.

Two-time and reigning U.S. champion Bradie Tennell had planned to compete, but was forced to withdraw due to a foot injury. U.S. silver medalist Amber Glenn turned in the top performance among Team USA skaters, placing seventh with 67.57 points, about 10 points off the lead and four points out of medal position.

Glenn had a strong program, opening with a solid triple flip, triple toe loop combination and gaining Level 4s on her spins and steps. She did falter slightly on the landing of a triple loop.

“We wanted to come in here and put out a performance I could be happy with and, unfortunately, today I’m not very happy with how I did,” Glenn said. “I feel in the free skate I will be able to come out and do what I know how to do.”

Glenn, who will turn 22 on Oct. 28, has been attempting to land a triple axel in competition, most recently at Finlandia Trophy in Espoo, Finland earlier this month. The 3½-revolution jump has been achieved by just three U.S. women in international competition: Tonya Harding, Mirai Nagasu and Alysa Liu.

While Glenn landed the jump in practices here, she elected not to try it in Saturday’s competition. A few near collisions with another competitor during the six-minute warm-up put her off her mental game.

“I had a couple of close calls with a skater, and just having that and being high-strung in the six-minute warmup, we made the decision not to throw the triple axel in there and risk injury,” she said.

Audrey Shin, who won bronze at Skate America last season, is ninth with 62.82 points. Starr Andrews replaced Tennell in the event and sits 10th with 61.94 points.

Lynn Rutherford

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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