Nathan Chen skated his best short program as the United States made a near-perfect start in the team event when the figure skating competitions kicked off at the Beijing Olympics on Friday.
Chen’s first place in the men’s short program was followed by Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue winning the rhythm dance with their season’s best and third place for Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier in the pair short program.
The results put the U.S. on 28 points, two ahead of the ROC (Russian Olympic Committee) skaters, the pre-event favorites.
Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, the world number ones, gave a below-par performance in rhythm dance to end up second after ROC’s 18-year-old Mark Kondratiuk took third place in the men’s short program behind Japan’s Shoma Uno.
“Everything went well, but (with) this one mistake that I made during the program I gave first place to my competitor for free,” said Katsalapov. “But only today. (With) just this one mistake, I’m really annoyed, but we learned a lesson.”
World champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov achieved their season’s best but were narrowly beaten by Sui Wenjing and Han Cong as the Chinese set a world record of 82.83 points in the pair skating short program.
Hosts China are third on 21 points with Japan in fourth place one point behind them.
Chen, who at the Pyeongchang 2018 Games took a tumble in the team event and had a disastrous short programme in the singles, scored 111.71 points in front of a few hundred spectators at the Capital Indoor Stadium – 0.11 of a point short of his main rival for the individual title Yuzuru Hanyu’s world record.
“I’m happy to be here. And I’m happy with the way that I skated so it feels great to be able to have a short program that I actually skated well at an Olympics,” said Chen.
Hanyu was not on the ice for Japan, but Uno duly delivered by achieving his season’s best with 105.46 points thanks to controlled and well-checked landings.
It was Chen’s performance that was widely awaited, however, and the American did not disappoint, doing nicely on his quadruple Lutz-triple toeloop combination.
Hanyu could still take part in the event by entering the men’s free skate as teams are allowed up to two changes.
The skater in first place earns 10 points, the second nine, down to one for the last and only the top five teams advance to free skating.
Defending champions Canada, without veteran Keegan Messing who has yet to arrive due to a positive COVID-19 test, ended the day in sixth place.
Ukraine and Germany have also had their plans derailed by COVID-19.
The Germans scored no points in the pair short program after Nolan Seegert, Minerva Fabienne Hase’s partner, tested positive and Ukraine, who had Ivan Shmuratko testing positive, ended the men’s short program without a point.
The team event continues on Sunday with the women’s short program and the men’s free skating.