Nathan Chen entered Sunday's free skate at Orleans Arena in Las Vegas with the smallest lead he's held in any of his last four U.S. Figure Skating Championship runs. But thanks to a 208.36 free skate that included five quad jumps, he was crowned the men's champion for the fifth consecutive time with a combined score of 322.28.
The 21-year-old is the first U.S. skater to win five titles in a row since Dick Button (1946-52), and he has now won 23 of his last 24 programs since the 2018 Winter Olympics. A third-place finish in the short program at the French Grand Prix in 2018 is his only loss.
Though he is used to his place atop the podium, Chen had to work to get there Sunday.
Men's Championship Leaderboard (Total Score)
1. Nathan Chen, 322.28
2. Vincent Zhou, 291.38
3. Jason Brown, 276.92
4. Yaroslav Paniot, 266.97
5. Maxim Naumov, 244.20
6. Jimmy Ma, 230.78
7. Tomoki Hiwatashi, 230.14
8. Camden Pulkinen, 220.10
9. Eric Sjoberg, 213.39
10. Dinh Tran, 210.79
11. Aleksei Krasnozhon, 206.76
12. Joseph Kang, 203.45
13. Joonsoo Kim, 197.12
14. Ryan Dunk, 192.66
15. Jordan Moeller, 191.33
16. Peter Liu, 171.18
17. Mitchell Friess, 163.07
Chen entered the final day of competition with a 6.13-point lead over Vincent Zhou, the smallest lead he's held in any of his four consecutive title runs. The tight lead wasn't due to a tough performance as Chen's short program consisted of a strenuous set of jumps—including a quadruple Lutz, a triple Axel and a quad flip-triple toe loop combo that netted him a 113.92 score.
Zhou landed a quad lutz-triple toe and quad salchow in his short program to inch closer to Chen and create the tight competition coming down to the free skate.
Refusing to back down, Chen aimed to complete five quads in his free skate, a feat he had not accomplished at the national level since 2018.
"You know me: I like to always challenge myself and one-up myself after every competition," Chen said before taking the ice on Sunday (h/t Philip Hersh of NBC Sports). "But it will be a game-time decision."
He was successful in his attempt, stumbling on his opening quad attempt but completing the rest with precision to land atop the leaderboard.
Zhou would need to be perfect in his free skate to get past his longtime rival, but a fall in the midst of his free skate on an under-rotated quad lutz cost him first place. He ended with a 183.59 free skate, good for a combined score of 291.38 in second place.
In his first competition since February 2020, Jason Brown secured a third-place finish with a free skate worth an even 176.00 for a combined score of 276.92. His short program nabbed him the greatest component score in the event despite not including a quad jump. His short program score of 100.92 put him 17.18 points ahead of the fourth-place skater, Yaroslav Paniot, heading into the free skate.
U.S. Figure Skating has yet to officially announce which male skaters will join Bradie Tennell and Karen Chen in representing the United States at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm in March.