Courtesy of Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating

All eyes were on Nathan Chen ’24 this weekend in Nashville at the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. And with the 2022 Winter Olympics fast approaching, the three-time defending world champion delivered yet another gold medal performance. 

Chen skated to his sixth national title in a row at the Bridgestone Arena this weekend as he cruised to a 25.53-point margin of victory with a score of 328.01. Seventeen-year-old Ilia Malinin took silver in his first senior U.S. Championships, scoring 302.48, while 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou scored 290.16 to secure a bronze medal. 

“I had a lot of fun and the crowd was amazing,” Chen said in a press conference Sunday evening. “It was great to be here in Nashville and to be able to perform for people.”

Before the competition, Chen announced that he would revive the programs he used during the 2019-20 season for this year’s U.S. championships, instead of using the programs he had debuted at Skate America at the beginning of this season. 

Skating to Charles Aznavour’s rendition of “La Bohème,” Chen landed two quad jumps on Saturday en route to a short program score of 115.39, breaking his own record — set in 2020 — of 114.13 for the highest short program score ever recorded at a U.S. championships. 

Skating to Charles Aznavour’s rendition of “La Bohème,” Chen landed two quad jumps on Saturday en route to a short program score of 115.39. (Courtesy of Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating)

Two skaters later, however, Zhou scored a personal-best 112.78 in his short program, landing two quad jumps of his own. The 2.61-point margin between first and second place after the short program was the slimmest margin among Chen’s six national titles. 

On Sunday, however, Zhou faltered and was unable to follow up his stellar short program with a clean free skate. Zhou under-rotated his opening quadruple lutz and stepped out of the jump. The rest of his program was filled with errors — including a fall on his last jump, a triple axel. Zhou scored 177.38 in the free skate, which was fourth-best among the field. 

“The simplest, most honest answer is that I was so nervous that my body just froze up on me and I couldn’t really get things to respond,” Zhou said of his free skate. “I came into today wanting to skate a personal best. I didn’t achieve my goal so I’m clearly pretty disappointed in myself.”

Malinin followed Zhou with an error-free program in which he landed all four of his attempted quad jumps, scoring 199.02 points on the free skate and ensuring at least a silver medal in his senior National Championships debut. The dominant performance from the self-proclaimed “quad god” followed a show-stealing short program on Saturday in which he broke 100 points in the short program for the first time in his career with a score of 103.46. 

“I’m really grateful for the skate today and I’m really surprised on how I skated,” Malinin said in the medalists’ press conference. “I definitely wasn’t expecting to skate this good and especially to place second.”

Chen revived his “Rocketman” program on Sunday, successfully landing four of his attempted five quad jumps on his way to a free skate score of 212.62. (Courtesy of Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating)

Chen revived his “Rocketman” program on Sunday with which he currently holds the all-time record for the highest scoring free skate in international competition, and gave a glimpse of what could be in store in Beijing. He landed a quadruple flip-triple toe combination at the top of his program, evoking fervent applause from the audience. Then, on his second jump, Chen fell on an attempted quadruple flip. 

The Salt Lake City native coolly got up and successfully executed his final five jumps, including a smooth quadruple toe-euler-triple flip combination which held the highest base value of points among all jumps attempted during the weekend. 

After the jumps were finished and the music transitioned to a hip-hop section of the piece, Chen entered into his dance sequence seemingly cruising to a sixth title. Then, Chen made an uncharacteristic addition to the choreography.

“I mean I got into the music, looked directly at [figure skating analyst] Jackie [Wong], and face planted,” Chen quipped, gesturing to Wong in the press room and jokingly blaming him for the mishap. 

In what was perhaps the defining moment of the weekend, Chen got up, brushed himself off with a laugh, and finished the rest of his program. While it was not perfect, his score of 212.62 in the free skate was more than enough to seal the victory.  

Chen’s winning streak at the U.S. Championships now only trails two-time Olympic gold medalist Dick Button, who won seven consecutive national titles from 1946 to 1952. 

“It’s been close to ten years that I’ve been working with [coach] Rafael [Arutunian] and a lot of the success that I’ve had is definitely credited to him,” Chen said of his continued success on the ice. (Courtesy of Jay Adeff/U.S. Figure Skating)

“It’s entirely based on my team,” Chen said of his continued success on the ice. “I’ve had really great people in my life, in my career, that have really helped me get to where I am now. Every single day I see [coach Rafael Arutunian] and he’s been pushing me every single day since I moved to him when I was around thirteen. It’s been close to ten years that I’ve been working with Rafael and a lot of the success that I’ve had is definitely credited to him. That’s kind of it. I can’t do this all by myself.”

On Sunday evening Chen was named to the U.S. Olympic Figure Skating Team along with Zhou and Jason Brown, who finished fourth this weekend. Brown was selected to his second U.S. Olympic team after having won a bronze medal in the team event at the 2014 Sochi Games. 

Chen has yet to decide which programs he will be using at the 2022 Winter Olympics, although he did acknowledge that he “loves” the “Rocketman” free skate. 

“I definitely get into the program and it’s something that I’ve really enjoyed performing over the past couple of years,” Chen said. “When the time comes the time will come and I will make that decision.”

The 2022 Olympic Winter Games are scheduled to take place between Feb. 4 and 20, with figure skating events to be held in the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, China.

James Richardson is a former staff reporter. He previously covered athletic administration, men's basketball and squash.