Figure skating-Chen’s Skate America reign ends as Zhou earns gold

Nathan Chen suffered his first loss since the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Saturday as he finished third at Skate America in Las Vegas, where fellow American Vincent Zhou won gold in the first Grand Prix event of the Olympic figure skating season.

Chen, who was seeking a record-setting fifth consecutive Skate America title, was fourth after Friday’s short program and returned to score 186.48 points in the free skate for a 269.37 total that was not enough on a night that belonged to Zhou.

Three-time reigning world champion Chen managed to deliver four cleanly landed quads but, with such high expectations for himself, left the ice shaking his head knowing it would not be enough to extend his reign with three skaters left to perform.

During Friday’s skate, Chen fell on his opening quadruple Lutz and messed up a combination later in the program en route to a score of 82.89 that left him 1.63 points away from the podium and 14.54 points from first.

The 22-year-old Chen left the ice after his free skate in first place with American Jimmy Ma, Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno of Japan and Zhou still left to skate.

Ma, who was third after the short program, was unable to follow it up with another strong outing, and his 143.60 in the free skate assured Chen a spot on the podium.

Uno overtook Chen before Zhou, who finished runner-up last year in Las Vegas, delivered the performance of the night.

Zhou, 20, showed no nerves as he delivered a phenomenal performance during which he landed five quad jumps en route to a free skate score of 198.13 that gave him a combined 295.56.

“Today I just really tried to focus on myself and stay present, stay in the moment and connect to all the good training I’ve done leading up to this competition,” Zhou said.

“I’ve definitely been building this season, my results have been pretty consistent.”

Chen, the Beijing Olympics gold medal favourite whowill return to competition at the Oct. 29-31 Skate Canada event in Vancouver, said that he was not disappointed with his effort.

“It (the winning streak) was going to end at some point of time. I’m really proud of these guys here, if anyone is to break my winning streak I’m glad it’s him (Zhou),” Chen said.

“I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the past, but at this point of time the only thing I can do is move forward.”

The Grand Prix season this year will feature a full six-event season that includes international lineups, after travel restrictions related to the COVID-19 pandemic limited it to just four events last season.