Nathan Chen opens up big lead after short program at Skate America

EVERETT, Wash. -- Nathan Chen is picking up right where he left off last year.

The 19-year-old American star topped the men's short program with room to spare Friday night at the opening session of Skate America.

Chen, who won gold at last year's world championships and was fifth in the 2018 Olympics, tallied 90.58 points. That was more than eight points better than second-place Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, who had 82.09.

Chen was the only skater among the 12 to top 40 points in both scoring categories Friday: 45.94 for technical and 44.64 for presentation.

Julian Zhi Jie Yee, of Malaysia, was third with 81.52 points, the only other skater in the 80s.

"That was a good start to my season for the short program," said Chen, who will take his lead into the men's free skate Saturday. "It definitely wasn't the best for all of the technical elements. But I think the performance was pretty good, the audience was amazing, so there's lots to build on."

Chen was solid on almost every move. With Duke Ellington's "Caravan" playing, he opened with a clean triple axel. He has a slight slip on his quad flip, but hung onto it, and subsequently nailed a triple lutz midway through his program.

"Quads are very important, and they're something I definitely will keep working on," Chen said. "But there's also a lot of emphasis on spins throughout the season, so that's something I'll try to improve on."

If Chen can stay on top, he would add to a growing collection of gold medals. In addition to his win at last year's worlds, he also won the U.S. Championships, and was the winner at the 2017 Grand Prix final.

Brezina was solid on his opening quad salchow/triple toe loop, part of his 42.27 technical score.

Yee posted the night's highest technical score of 46.09, thanks in part to his opening quad salchow, followed by a triple axel, and a triple flip/triple toe loop combination.

American skater Vincent Zhou was sixth with a season-best 76.38 points, and Jimmy Ma of the U.S. was seventh with a personal-best 71.53.

The pairs short program clearly belonged to Russian competitors, who put together a 1-2 finish.

Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov won by a wide margin. Performing to "I Got You" by James Brown, the pair earned 71.24 points. That was nearly nine points better than teammates Alisa Efimova and Alexander Korovin, who totaled 62.38 points.

"We liked our short program," Morozov said. "We just need to keep working hard to keep it clean."

Germany's Minerva Fabienne Hase and Nolan Segert, the final pair in the first group, were third with 60.04.

All three American pairs had deductions for falls. Ashley Cain and Timothy LeDuc were fourth, the husband-wife combo of Chris Knierim and Alexa Scimeca Knierim were fifth, and the duo of Nica Digerness and Danny Neudecker were seventh.

Tarasova and Morozov are coming off a strong season in which they won the European Championships, finished second at the Worlds and fourth at the Olympics. Two weeks ago, they won the ISU Challenger Series Finlandia Trophy.

The pairs free skate is set for Saturday.