Nathan Chen En

Nathan Chen en route to a fourth U.S. title, casually found his way to the top of the leaderboard after the men’s short program at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina.

Chen opened his “La Boeheme” routine with an effortless quad flip, followed by a solid triple Axel and a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination. He was rewarded handsomely with a U.S. record score of 114.13 points. If there were any criticism of the program, it would be that Chen made it look too easy and did not present the choreography with his usual attack.

The 20-year-old later explained he was not as prepared as he would have liked for this competition. “I couldn’t get into the rink for a couple of days, and by the time I could get in, I was just dragging myself across the ice. I couldn’t get any true training done. I was happy by the time I was actually back at school and got back onto the ice where I was able to get some actual training in.

Nonetheless, Chen was satisfied with his performance. “Everything felt really calm, really paced throughout the program. I felt like I was really in control of everything that I was doing, and I was really happy with the program I put out. I hope that I continue that throughout the rest of the season.”

Reigning bronze medalist Jason Brown finished in second place, earning a career-high 100.99 points for his “I Can’t Go on Without You” program. A hush fell over the arena as the 2015 champion began his routine but was soon on fire as he reeled off solid jumps combined with sleek choreography.

Brown opted to not include a quad in his program, but chose to focus on the quality of the four triples he attempted instead. It is a tried and trusted strategy for Brown, who has become an expert in exploiting the Grade of Execution (GOE) mark, and this performance was no different. The 2014 Olympian earned more than 14 points for the quality of his elements on the second mark, and also collected a full complement of Level 4s for his steps and spins.

“I’m super happy with my short program today,” the 25-year-old said. “I struggled with it a little bit in the beginning of the season, so after my last event in December, we worked really hard on the consistency of the program. I think that shined through today, so I am really excited about that.”

Brown said he and his coaches work on improving the quality of the spins, steps, stroking and skating skills, as well as the jumps, every day. “My coaches are pushing as hard as possible in every aspect and really challenging me. The goal is to continue pushing that way, but also finding my way when it comes to competition and dealing with all of the changes in the judging system. I was really happy about keeping the quality up with the performance as well today.”

The surprise of the competition was 18-year-old Andrew Torgashev — seventh a year ago — who finished in third place with the best short program of his young career. His performance to “Bloodstream” by Tokio Myers felt current and even a little bit edgy at times, and Torgashev showed much more connection to the music than he has in the past. He opened his routine with a solid quad toe loop, followed by a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe loop. combination. He earned high program components mark and scored third highest of the competition. His 97.87-point total reflected the quality of his performance.

“There’s been a lot of change in these last couple of years,” Torgashev said. “This season has been a little rocky to start, but these last 12 weeks gearing up for nationals, I have been training so hard and so focused and really putting my heart and soul into my programs.

“I’ve always been able to do the (quad) toe and the (triple) Axel — putting them in the program in practice. But it’s always been a problem of focusing on the right things in competition. For this competition, I am relying heavily on my training — what we’ve done in those last 12 weeks, and staying focused on all of those things that I need to pay attention to.”

Vincent Zhou, the 2019 silver medalist, finished in fourth place with a solid performance that included a quad Salchow and three triple jumps. This is his first competition of the season after skipping the Grand Prix Series last fall to begin his studies at Brown University. Now on hiatus until after the 2022 Winter Olympic Games, Zhou resumed serious training about a month ago under Lee Barkell in Toronto.

“I was nervous. I definitely felt a little shakier than I would have if I were more well trained,” said Zhou who earned 94.82 points. “But you know, I’m very proud of this first outing after not skating for a few months and all that. It was good. I’m proud of myself.”

Tomoki Hiwatashi finished in fifth place with a clean program that included a quad toe loop and three triple jumps. The reigning World Junior champion earned 94.21 points.