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Nathan Chen, US figure skating team at the Beijing Olympics


Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu of China compete in the ice dance team program of the figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics, Friday, Feb. 4, 2022, in Beijing. (AP Photo/Natacha Pisarenko)


It was supposed to be a foregone conclusion that Russia’s mighty stable of figure skaters, including world champions in three of the four disciplines, would walk away with team gold at the Beijing Olympics.

Nathan Chen and the rest of the Americans had to make an exception.

The three-time world champion’s winning short program set the tone for Team USA on Friday, and everyone else followed suit. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue won the rhythm dance with a season best score, and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier capped the first of three days of team competition with a personal best short program.

That left the Americans with 28 points, two ahead of the Russians and seven ahead of third-placed China.

“We can come away with a medal for sure. What color? It’s hard to say,” Chen said. “But I have confidence in my teammates and I know they will do their best.”

In fact, the only discipline they didn’t win was pairs. Knierim and Frazier finished third behind China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who set a world record with their short program, and Russia’s Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov.

“I’m so proud of us,” said Knierim, who helped the United States win team bronze four years ago in Pyeongchang. “I mean, there was a lot of pressure inside of us. We just tried to ignore it, and just rose to the occasion.

There’s still a lot of work to be done to get the Americans on the podium this time around.

The team event takes a break on Saturday before the women’s short program on Sunday, where the Russians will once again be the favourites. After that, the top five ranked nations will qualify for the free skates, with the medals being decided on Monday evening.

Chen battled for a fourth-place finish with his short program in the team event in Pyeongchang, and the dismal start to his Olympic debut four years ago carried over into the men’s event. His short program there was so riddled with mistakes that even his brilliant freestyle couldn’t get him to the podium.

Maybe his flawless debut in Beijing will send him the other way.

Playing to Charles Aznavour’s song “La Bohème,” Chen started with a huge quadruple toe curl and landed the triple axel that often gets him into trouble. By the time he landed his quad salchow-triple toe loop combination, his technical mark was so far ahead of the pack that first place was pretty much assured.

Chen scored 111.71 points, a mark that would have won the men’s short program in Pyeongchang, and put him past defending Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan on Friday.

“Even if someone doesn’t have the best skate, we have an incredibly strong team to support us all,” Chen said. “That’s certainly the case this time around. I’m glad I did my part and skated as well as I could.

Oh, did he ever have someone to back him up.

After a disappointing display of their short program at nationals, Hubbell and Donohue were in perfect sync for the Americans on skating’s biggest stage, scoring a record 86.56 points for their Janet Jackson mix.

“It’s always better to give a great performance and leave that impression on the judges,” Hubbell said, “but we also know that it all comes down to how you perform every day and every time you step onto the ice. “

World champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov were the last ice dance duo to skate, but their program started to go wrong during their pirouettes. He briefly crumbled when Katsalapov stumbled during their mid-step streak, an error that left them in second place with 86.06 points.

“We are very confident,” Katsalapov insisted afterwards, “because we have the strongest team.”

May be. But not Friday.

Knierim and Frazier punctuated a big day for the Americans. From their opening triple twist lift to their often troublesome triple toe loop, they made it all easy just weeks after Frazier’s positive COVID-19 test forced them to pull out of nationals.

Meanwhile, Germany and Ukraine saw their chances of advancing dashed before they even set foot on the ice.

Nolan Seegert tested positive upon his arrival in Beijing, forcing him and his partner Minerva Fabienne Hase to withdraw from the team event. Ukrainian skater Ivan Shmuratko also tested positive and had to withdraw.

Both nations had no alternates for their disciplines, so they received no points in the team event.

“Nolan is symptom free so far,” said Hase, who was released from quarantine after testing negative. “Of course, it was also a shock for me. We were careful to get back on track in the next few days.


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