By JANIE McCAULEY
AP Sports Writer
SAN JOSE, Calif. (AP) — Nathan Chen skated once more in a victory lap of sorts, this time to high-five fans as the newly crowned national champion.
Well, repeat champion.
And oh what a lopsided win he delivered.
Chen dazzled yet again with his remarkable athleticism to pull off five breathtaking quadruple jumps, skating the final routine to a commanding U.S. national title on Jan 6.
With improved poise and style that showed all his growth, not to mention his new Vera Wang costumes, Chen beat second-place Ross Miner with a total score of 315.23 — a startling 40.72-point margin.
The 18-year-old Chen all but secured his spot for next month’s Pyeongchang Games. He opened with a quad flip- triple toe loop combination at full speed and with flair, and never looked back. Chen displayed a new maturity and attention to detail such as pointing toes, using his head and being more expressive with his body.
“I still need time to really wrap my head around this,” Chen said. “But this whole season has gone exactly as I wanted it to in terms of all the requirements to make that Olympic team. Honestly at this point it time it is sort of just checking off that box. I still have a lot more to do, but ultimately this is the dream that I’ve wanted for a long, long time. I’ve really strived for it my entire life. And I’ve always wanted to know what it feels like to be on that Olympic team.”
Sporting all black, Chen singled his planned triple axel as his only flaw. It hardly mattered with all those memorable quads. Besides the first combination, he also did a quadruple flip stand-alone, quad toe loop with a double toe loop combination, and a quad toe and quad salchow on their own.
Unbeaten this season, Chen is considered the Americans’ best hope for a medal. Now, the U.S. Figure Skating selection committee will consider body of work to decide on three skaters to represent the country next month in South Korea.
“I’m very happy with tonight. I laid out a five-quad program, which I haven’t been able to do all season,” Chen said. “Obviously I made a mistake on the axel and I’ll have to address that at some point back home. Ultimately, I’m very happy with tonight and I think I really did my job here.”
Vincent Zhou, another prodigious jumper, placed third.
Crowd-pleasing Miner skated a near-flawless routine to a Queen medley and had SAP Center rocking and clapping along. He pumped his right fist after a double axel that made for a clean, lighthearted program. The 26-year-old Miner earned a standing ovation and beamed while putting his hand to his heart in appreciation. He scored 185.60 for a 274.51 total.
He knew he had that performance in him when it mattered most.
“I had one of the most fun nights I’ve ever had on the ice,” Miner said. “That’s what I do in training at home and it was such a good feeling to put it out there at the big game and show what I’m capable of. That’s what I do all the time.”
Zhou, a 17-year-old rising star skating in his hometown to “Moulin Rouge!” attempted five quads and completed four in his technically difficult program — one quad was in combination with a triple — for a score of 273.83.
The 2017 silver medalist at nationals, Zhou calmed himself moments before he began by shutting his eyes, then opening them with a deep breath. He skated with ease and confidence to nail his first four quadruple jumps before falling on his quad toe loop in the second half of his performance.
On the ladies side, newcomer Bradie Tennell continues to steal the spotlight. Tennell, the U.S. junior champion in 2015, earned her first senior national title.
She will travel to Korea with Mirai Nagasu and Karen Chen. Nagasu, among the few ladies attempting the challenging triple axel jump, competed in the 2010 Olympic Games in Vancouver, and finished third at the Olympic Trials in 2014, but was left off the team in favor of Ashley Wagner, who finished fourth at the time. This time, Wagner again finished fourth and was named as the first alternate to the team.
Karen Chen, last year’s national champion, has had a rocky season, and finished third to make her first Olympic team.
In ice dance, reigning national champions Maia and Alex Shibutani couldn’t retain their national title, finishing second, but made their second Olympic team. They are joined by new U.S. ice dance champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Olympic vets Madison Chock and Evan Bates.