Nathan Chen rockets into lead at 2019 Skate America in Las Vegas

Double world champ Nathan Chen scored 102.71 on a scintillating short program to head into Saturday's free skate with a commanding lead.

Nathan Chen is on course to win his third straight Skate America title after a spectacular short program in the ISU season opener.

Skating to Charles Aznavour's La Boheme, Chen landed a quad Lutz, a triple Axel and a quad toeloop-triple toeloop combination to score 102.71.

On a night of many mistakes, Chen wasn't blemish-free either; turning out of his opening jump slightly blotted an otherwise excellent performance both technically and in his interpretation of the choreography.

Chen looks more sure than ever at the beginning of a new season.

A confident Chen aims to begin this season as he left off, claiming a second straight World Championship title in Saitama Japan in March.

But in a season curtain raiser there was plenty of rust on the ice as skaters are still wearing in their new routines, Chen was less than pleased with his maiden short program outing:

"This is my first time doing this short program in a competitive setting. I’m not entirely happy with exactly how the program went." - Nathan Chen

World Champion, data science major?

What makes Nathan Chen's feats on the ice all the more impressive is the impossible juggling act he somehow pulls off between world-beating figure skater and top Ivy-League student.

With half his brain calculating quads and finding perfect edges, the other half is considering his major at Yale:

"My prospective major is statistics and data science. I'm taking a lot of stats classes, math classes, and major-oriented classes."

But over the summer it was focus on skating and getting a new short program and free skate down for the new campaign.

Nathan Chen went to work with coach Rafael Arutyunyan in California:

"I had the opportunity to go back to CA to work with Raf. The majority of it was spent with Raf and the rest of the team."

"I felt like I grew quite a bit over the summer." - Nathan Chen

"I felt like I grew quite a bit over the summer. I’m really happy he was able to devote his time to help me grow over the summer."

Impressive Aliev finishes second

Russia’s Dmitri Aliev who took an early-season victory at the Ondrej Nepela competition, scored 96.57 with a very impressive routine, drawing gasps from the crowd as he made an early-season statement to finish second behind Chen.

The sense of urgency and intensity in Aliev's skate was as compelling as the technical elements - his quad Lutz-triple toe dropped jaws and a turn out of the quad toe was the only blot on an otherwise outstanding short program.

If this is a sign of what's to come this season then watch out for Aliev.

"Overall, I'm pleased with the job I did today. I really enjoyed performing in front of the American crowd today; they received me well." - Dmitri Aliev

"Last season didn't go well for me, he continued, "maybe it was a problem in my head & I got kind of lost. For this season, I started from scratch and wanted to come back stronger."

"I now have goals & plans, and I fixed my head and I'm moving in the right direction."

Dmitri Aliev is second after the men's short program
Dmitri Aliev is second after the men's short programDmitri Aliev is second after the men's short program

Messing takes solace in skating after family tragedy

Keegan Messing chose to compete here in Las Vegas despite suffering recent personal tragedy after his younger brother was killed in a motorcycle accident, just days after Canadian Messing won bronze at the Autumn Classic International last month.

And he was in inspired form, scoring 96.34 to place third.

"Coming here this week, it was a huge decision for me to decide to actually even come with everything that happened," Keegan said after his huge performance.

"Every day has been a struggle." - Keegan Messing after losing his brother

"I felt like it being dedicated to my wife was also a good distraction for today. I have some great, great support here with me. My wife is here. I couldn’t ask for…the best of a bad situation," he continued.

"This was the first time I got to perform this program in front of my wife. For her to be here to see it was very special to me."

Jason Brown finished fourth on 83.45, but it could have been so much better had one big mistake on a triple Axel - a jump he's been landing without even blinking in practice this week - not dragged him down.

Junhwan Cha was considered one of the podium contenders coming into this season opener, but the South Korean who trains with Yuzuru Hanyu under Brian Orser popped his first quad toe loop and looked disappointed with himself at the finish.

Last season's Grand Prix Final bronze medallist could only tally 78.98 on the short program

Jin Boyang was another name marked out for medal contention but the inconsistency that plagues him was writ large in just three jumps where the Chinese skater popped his opening quad Lutz to a double, nailed an incredibly difficult quad-toe-triple-toe combo then fell on a triple Axel.

Peng/Jin set the tone in pairs

Chinese pair Cheng Peng and Yang Jin topped the pairs short program with 72.73 points (39.23, 33.50).

They came into the competition as favourites following the withdrawal of World Championship bronze medallists Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert of Russia.

Last year's ISU Grand Prix Final silver-medallists put down an accomplished performance but weren't perfect, Peng just hanging on to a triple toeloop after an under rotation.

But good speed around the ice, original choreography, well executed elevation and a huge throw gave the favourites the biggest score and they looked reasonably content in the kiss and cry.

After the performance, Peng told media:

"(I’m) not really satisfied with the performance because I still think I have more room to improve."

What's it like coming to Las Vegas to skate?

"It’s really different. We’ve been coming to the States lots of times but Las Vegas is a really unique city and it feels kind of luxurious."

Pavlyuchenko/Khodykin second

2018 world junior champs Daria Pavlyuchenko (who's just 16) and Denis Khodykin (20) were second on 71.25 (40.77, 30.48).

The young Russian pair skated a technically impressive routine with level four elevations, in sync and on song, pulling off the tightest triple toe loop of the night.

Pavlyuchenko and Khodykin completed the first clean program of the night skating before Peng/Jin looking confident and in control, there's much to come from them this season.

U.S. skaters Ashley Cain and Timothy Leduc won bronze at Skate America 2018 and received the biggest cheer of all on home ice.

They would have scored higher if not for a big fall on a triple Lutz which Cain recovered really well from.

The USA pair placed third on 68.20.

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