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Nathan Chen with clear path to gold at U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

Adam Rippon, Nathan Chen, and Jason Brown
NBC Olympics

Nathan Chen with clear path to gold at U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

Nathan Chen is a heavy favorite and expected to defend his national tile at the 2018 U.S. National Figure Skating Championships

Nathan Chen seems like the heavy favorite at this year’s U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in San Jose, California, despite three other men in the field with national titles on their résumés. Adam Rippon won in 2016, Jason Brown won in 2015, and Max Aaron won in 2013.

The championships are not an official Olympic Trials event, but do count towards what U.S. Figure Skating Association calls a “body of work.” The Olympic selection committee will take into account the results of nationals, the fall 2017 Grand Prix Final and the series overall, plus additional competitions from the prior season. Based on all of this, the 2018 Olympic Figure Skating Team will be chosen to compete in PyeongChang, South Korea in February.

The U.S. can send three men to the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

Here are five men to watch at Nationals:

How to watch the U.S. Figure Skating National Championships on NBCOlympics.com

The figure skating championships act as part of a tiered qualification system for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics.

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Nathan Chen, 18

Credentials:

  • 2017 Grand Prix Final gold medalist
  • 2017 Four Continents champion
  • 2017 U.S. national champion

Buzz about Chen: How many quads will he do? Last year, in his short and long programs combined, Chen produced seven quads. He’s the only man in the world right now able to do five different quads, so the number could increase.  

His season so far: Nathan Chen opened his season by winning the U.S. International Classic in September. He won both of his Grand Prix assignments, beating reigning Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan at Rostelecom Cup and handily topping the field at Skate America. He won the prestigious Grand Prix Final by a slim margin ahead of another Olympic podium threat, Japan’s Shoma Uno.

Notes: Figure skating fans are eagerly anticipating Chen’s new costumes, which will debut at Nationals. Vera Wang, a former figure skater herself, designed Chen’s new short program and free skate costumes.

With his meteoric rise to the top of U.S. skating, it’s hard to remember that Chen was the bronze medalist at 2016 nationals but that excitement was short lived. His season was cut short after he injured his hip in the exhibition gala at nationals, which required surgery. Chen was off the ice for five months before returning to full training, which took another month.   

Adam Rippon, 28

Credentials:

  • 2016 national champion
  • 2008 and 2009 world junior champion

Buzz about Rippon: Rippon was forced to withdraw from 2017 nationals at the last minute when he broke his foot in a practice session. He was out of competition for 11 months, but came back strong this fall.

His season so far: He won a bronze medal at Finlandia trophy before setting out on the Grand Prix circuit. He took silver at the NHK Trophy in Japan and another silver behind training partner Nathan Chen at Skate America. He qualified for the Grand Prix Final for the second consecutive year, this time finishing fifth.

Notes: Rippon has been through two Olympic-year nationals before: 2010 and 2014, missing the team both times. He’s made it very clear in interviews that this is his year.

Jason Brown, 23

Credentials:

  • 2014 Olympian; bronze medalist in the team event, finished ninth individually
  • 2015 national champion

Buzz about Brown: He is known for being one of the U.S.’ top male skaters without a quad in his jumping arsenal, but Brown’s strength lies in his artistry. His free skate this year is an original piece composed just for him.

His season so far: Brown opened his season with a silver medal at Lombardia before competing on the Grand Prix circuit. He captured another silver at Skate Canada before taking fourth place at the NHK Trophy in Japan. He was the first alternate to the elite Grand Prix Final, and was invited after the withdrawal of the injured Jin Boyang. Brown finished sixth in his Grand Prix Final debut.

Notes: Brown is known for his viral programs; for example, in 2014, he skated his long program to “Riverdance.” This year, for his short program, he’s skating to “In the Room Where it Happens” from the Broadway smash hit Hamilton. Even the show’s star, Lin-Manuel Miranda, has tweeted his approval.

Lin-Manuel Miranda of ‘Hamilton’ approves of Jason Brown’s new music

Jason Brown will skate to music from the “Hamilton” soundtrack for his short program this season and at the Olympics, if he makes the U.S. t...

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Vincent Zhou, 17

Credentials:

  • 2017 world junior champion
  • 2017 U.S. national silver medalist

Buzz about Zhou: When Zhou captured silver at the 2017 nationals, he did so with three quads between his short and long programs. He threw down three quads in his free skate when he won the world junior title.

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Vincent Zhou was the 2017 world junior champion and looks to build on that momentum toward the 2018 U.S. Olympic Team.

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His season so far: Zhou started his season at Finlandia, where he grabbed silver in front of Rippon. But, he struggled at his senior Grand Prix debut, finishing fourth and ninth at two assignments.

Notes: Zhou has said that his goal this year is to present a more senior version of himself, aware of that world junior title on his résumé. But doing that, he admits, is even more difficult with the pressure of executing clean quads. Doing that in an Olympic year puts pressure on him to develop even faster, he said.

Who is Vincent Zhou?

Get to know figure skater Vincent Zhou and his major accomplishments before he competes at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics

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Max Aaron, 25

Credentials:

  • 2013 national champion
  • 2016 national silver medalist

Buzz about Aaron: Formerly at the forefront of the U.S. quad revolution, Aaron has historically been lackluster in his artistic scores. But, this year, with programs he’s connected to, he’s ready to prove he’s an artist as well as an athlete. He performs to the soundtracks from Les Miserables in the short program and Phantom of the Opera in the free skate.

His season so far: Aaron opened his season by capturing a bronze medal at the Philadelphia Summer International. Then, he won a silver medal behind Chen at the U.S. International Classic in September. On the Grand Prix circuit, Aaron captured a surprise bronze medal at the Cup of China. He couldn’t repeat the feat at Internationaux de France, though, where he finished seventh.

Notes: Like Rippon, Aaron has been through the gauntlet of an Olympic-year nationals. In 2014, when the U.S. only had two men’s berths to the Games, Aaron finished third and was left off the team. He’s looking for redemption.

Q&A with Max Aaron

Figure skater Max Aaron shares what he’d be doing if he weren’t an athlete and how he likes to unwind after competitions

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Other notable names in the men’s field at nationals:

Grant Hochstein, 27: Has been fourth at both the 2016 and 2017 national championships. Made his first trip to Worlds in 2016, where he finished 10th.

Ross Miner, 26: Part of his short program music features “Downtown” by Macklemore and Ryan Lewis. He placed fifth at nationals in both 2016 and 2017.

Alex Krasnozhon, 17: Competed for Russia before representing the United States starting in 2013. He was the 2017 U.S. junior national champion and placed eight at junior worlds. He most recently won the Junior Grand Prix Final title in early December.

Andrew Torgashev, 16: National junior champion in 2015, most recently qualified and finished sixth at the Junior Grand Prix Final.

 

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