Figure skating: Nathan Chen's Skate America reign ends as Vincent Zhou earns gold

(From left) Shoma Uno wins the silver medal, Vincent Zhou celebrates winning the gold medal and Nathan Chen during the 2021 Skate America figure skating competition at Orleans Arena. PHOTO: REUTERS

(REUTERS) - Nathan Chen suffered his first loss since the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics on Saturday (Oct 23) as he finished third at Skate America in Las Vegas, where fellow American Vincent Zhou won gold in the first Grand Prix event of the Olympic figure skating season.

Chen, who was seeking a record-setting fifth consecutive Skate America title, was fourth after Friday's short programme and returned to score 186.48 points in the free skate for a 269.37 total that was not enough on a night that belonged to Zhou.

Three-time reigning world champion Chen managed to deliver four cleanly landed quads but, with such high expectations for himself, left the ice shaking his head knowing it would not be enough to extend his reign with three skaters left to perform.

During Friday's skate, Chen fell on his opening quadruple Lutz and messed up a combination later in the programme en route to a score of 82.89 that left him 1.63 points away from the podium and 14.54 points from first.

The 22-year-old Chen left the ice after his free skate in first place with American Jimmy Ma, Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno of Japan and Zhou still left to skate.

Ma, 26, who was third after the short programme, was unable to follow it up with another strong outing, and his 143.60 in the free skate assured Chen a spot on the podium.

Uno, 23, overtook Chen before Zhou, who finished runner-up last year in Las Vegas, delivered the performance of the night.

Zhou, 20, showed no nerves as he delivered a phenomenal performance during which he landed five quad jumps en route to a free skate score of 198.13 that gave him a combined 295.56.

"Today I just really tried to focus on myself and stay present, stay in the moment and connect to all the good training I've done leading up to this competition," he said.

"I've definitely been building this season, my results have been pretty consistent."

Chen, the 2022 Beijing Olympics gold medal favourite who will return to competition at the Oct 29-31 Skate Canada event in Vancouver, said that he was not disappointed with his effort.

"It (the winning streak) was going to end at some point of time. I'm really proud of these guys here, if anyone is to break my winning streak I'm glad it's him (Zhou)," Chen, who was fifth in the individual event in Pyeongchang, said.

"I'm proud of what I've accomplished in the past, but at this point of time the only thing I can do is move forward."

The Grand Prix season this year will feature a full six-event season that includes international line-ups, after travel restrictions related to the Covid-19 pandemic limited it to just four events last season.

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