Figure Skating

Nathan Chen seeks four-peat at U.S. Nationals

Last year's runner-up Vincent Zhou makes his return to action as Alysa Liu defends the women's figure skating title

By Rory Jiwani ·

Five men have won four consecutive U.S. National figure skating titles.

Dick Button, brothers Hayes and David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano (1985-88).

All five were also crowned Olympic champion.

Nathan Chen is hoping to complete one half of that double in Greensboro, North Carolina this weekend when he bids for four in a row.

Since his fifth place at PyeongChang 2018, Chen is unbeaten in competition including two world titles and two ISU Grand Prix Final victories to take his tally to three.

All that despite starting his studies at Yale University at the end of August 2018.

Now in his second year, Chen splits his time between school in Connecticut and training in Southern California with his coach Rafael Arutunian.

Oh, and competition. This season, he has continued his dominance with victory in Skate America and the Internationaux de France before defeating double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu in December's Grand Prix Final in Turin.

Nathan Chen admits he's surpassed his own expectations this season

The double world champion is now a three-time Grand Prix Final winner after...

The return of Vincent Zhou

The sky looked the limit for Vincent Zhou after his bronze medal, behind Chen and Hanyu, at last year's World Championships.

But the California native found juggling his first year at Brown University - some 80km from Yale - and skating too much and pulled out of his 2019-20 Grand Prix assignments.

Last month saw another change of plan with Zhou taking an extended break from his classes and moving to Toronto to train under Lee Barkell, the coach of two-time world medallist Satoko Miyahara who was fourth at PyeongChang 2018.

Just weeks after resuming full-time training, Zhou makes his competitive return 12 months after finishing runner-up.

It's fair to say he's not promising too much, telling NBC Olympic Talk that a successful competition would be "to just complete it and not fall more than six times".

The 19-year-old added, "It’s a disappointingly low bar for me. I just don’t know what to expect. But it’s in trying times like these, so to speak, that coal is turned into diamond.

"It’s going to be nerve-racking. I'm going to literally be shaking in my boots." - Vincent Zhou

Vincent Zhou competing at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Detroit

Three American men will go through to March's World Championships with Jason Brown the most likely to join Chen in Montreal.

Brown was second to Chen at Skate America, but then a disappointing fifth place at the NHK Trophy saw him miss out on the Grand Prix Final.

Other podium contenders are last year's fourth Tomoki Hiwatashi, Alexei Krasnozhon and Skate Canada fourth Camden Pulkinen.

2019 U.S. Championships podium (L-R): runner-up Vincent Zhou, winner Nathan Chen, third-placed Jason Brown, fourth-placed Tomoki Hiwatashi

Liu v Tennell for ladies' title

A year ago, 13-year-old Alysa Liu stunned the world by becoming the youngest ever U.S. national champion landing two triple Axels on the way.

She narrowly beat Bradie Tennell into second place, and the pair look set to fight it out again in Greensboro.

Tennell is in the middle of her best season yet, taking second behind Anna Shcherbakova at Skate America and fourth at Skate Canada.

That saw her qualify for the Grand Prix Final where she finished fifth.

Now she is bidding to regain the national title she won for the first time in 2018.

Bradie Tennell during the short program at the 2019-20 Grand Prix Final in Turin

Liu has also stepped up, becoming the first American woman to land a quad jump in competition.

Now 14, she became the first non-Russian to win a Junior Grand Prix competition in 20 events in Lake Placid before backing that up with victory in Gdansk, Poland.

She led after the short program of the JGP Final in Turin but had to settle for second in the end behind Kamila Valieva.

While her technical elements give her an advantage over most of her rivals, except the Russians, Liu has worked on improving her Program Component Scores (PCS) with Carolina Kostner.

The Italian, world champion in 2012 and 2014 Olympic bronze medallist, is universally recognised as one of the sport's most elegant and artistic skaters.

Sharing a choreographer in Lori Nichol, Kostner started advising Liu last April.

Carolina Kostner on her way to taking bronze at Sochi 2014

Liu told NBC Olympic Talk, "When I heard she was going to help me, I was like, ‘No way. She is one of the most beautiful skaters in the world.’ It is an honour to work with her."

Kostner said, "I admired Alysa before meeting her, and I admired her even more after for her work ethic, her eagerness to learn and her humbleness to say, ‘Oh, yeah, that was wrong. I'm going to try it again and see how I can make it work.'"

While she could not beat Valieva in Turin, partly due to trying too many quads in her free skate when a safer routine may have secured gold, Liu might have enough to become the youngest person in history to win two U.S. national titles.

Also in podium contention are Mariah Bell, who finished third in both her Grand Prix assignments this season, and Olympian Karen Chen who has shown good form in short programs after taking a year out after PyeongChang.

Go in-depth with figure skating prodigy Alysa Liu

Young American, who won the U.S. National title aged 13, talks about having...

Greensboro set for ice dance duel

The two best current ice dance pairings in the world, outside of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, go head-to-head yet again in Greensboro.

Twelve months ago, Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue retained their U.S. national title ahead of Madison Chock and Evan Bates.

The two duos met most recently at last month's Grand Prix Final with Chock and Bates producing a career-best free skate to take silver behind France's world champions.

Hubbell and Donohue had to settle for bronze with all three pairs on the podium trained by Marie-France Dubreuil, Patrice Lauzon and Romain Haguenauer in Montreal's Gadbois Arena.

With PyeongChang 2018 bronze medallists Maia and Alex Shibutani, aka the Shib Sibs, having already taken a second season off before Maia had a kidney tumour removed, expect the Team Gadbois pairings to fight out another close contest.

2019-20 Grand Prix Final ice dance podium (L-R): runners-up Madison Chock and Evan Bates, winners Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, third-placed Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue

Four previous winners in pairs competition

Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc defend their pairs title but there are no fewer than three other previous champion duos in the field.

Two-time winners and PyeongChang 2018 team bronze medallists, husband and wife team Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, finished down in seventh last year and will be hoping for better this year.

But Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier, champions in 2017, were the only Americans to make the podium in this season's Grand Prix.

They were third in both Skate America and the Internationaux de France but just missed out on the Grand Prix Final.

2016 winners Tarah Kayne and Daniel O'Shea are also in a competitive line-up.

Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc react after winning the pairs event at the 2019 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

2020 U.S. Figure Skating Nationals schedule

All times USA Eastern Time (UTC-5):

Thursday 23 January

16:30-18:40 Pairs Short Program

19:30-22:15 Ladies' Short Program

Friday 24 January

16:30-17:50 Ice Dance Rhythm Dance

19:25-22:50 Ladies' Free Skate

Saturday 25 January

13:30-16:20 Men's Short Program

18:00-21:15 Pairs Free Skate

21:30-22:50 Ice Dance Free Dance

Sunday 26 January

14:30-17:55 Men's Free Skate