Nathan Chen wins fifth straight U.S. figure skating title

LAS VEGAS -- Even with an error at the beginning of his free skate, Nathan Chen was unbeatable Sunday, winning his fifth straight U.S. Figure Skating Championship.

Not since Dick Button won each title from 1946 to 1952 has any American man had such a streak of success. Throw in two world championships and being unbeaten since not medaling at the 2018 Olympics and Chen already has a résumé for the ages.

At age 21.

"It's incredible to try to follow in his footsteps," Chen said of Button, a two-time Olympic winner. "It means the world. Dick is a true skating icon, and it just feels incredible to be trying to chase something that someone like that has done. I'm nowhere near the level he was at, but it's just cool to be able to be even mentioned in his sort of realm of legendness."

Chen pretty much ignored the rough beginning of his free skate, when he put his hands down and stepped out of a quad lutz. He hit four more quads, three in combination, and a triple axel deep into his program. There was a fluidity to his choreography and spins, and his 322.28 points were unmatchable by anybody in the field.

"I was a little timid today. Honestly that's on me," Chen said. "I feel like I didn't really tackle my elements. I was focusing on conserving energy. That's not the right approach. I think that's what caused the first element to have an error. The rest of the program I was trying to make sure I stayed on my feet. That was my mindset throughout the program.

"Wasn't really exactly the skate I'd like to have, but at least I was able to stand up on all the rest of the jumps and I guess move on from here."

His main challengers couldn't stand up throughout their free skates, and Vincent Zhou's 291.38 total wasn't in the same stratosphere as Chen. Chou popped a quad flip and fell on a quad lutz, but the 2018 Olympian still held on to second place.

"I'm really not happy with myself for throwing away my first 300-point opportunity like that," Zhou said. "But all the same, this competition is still a great experience and lots of positives as well."

Jason Brown, the final competitor at these fanless nationals at the Orleans Arena -- moved from San Jose, California, due to the coronavirus pandemic -- stayed in third place at 276.92 points.

"Overall I'm pretty pleased with how the event went," said Brown, a 2014 team medalist at the Sochi Games. "A bit disappointed in today. I have high expectations in myself. What I was hoping for I fell a little short."

Chen, Zhou and Brown were all chosen to the U.S. team for March's worlds in Stockholm -- if it is held.

Other winners at nationals, which could be the final significant competition of the season should worlds in March in Stockholm be canceled for the second straight year: Bradie Tennell with her second women's title; Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue for their third ice dance championship; and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in pairs.

Knierim had won two titles with husband Chris, who retired before this season, and Frazier had earned one with previous partner Haven Denney.