LAKE PLACID, N.Y.
Nathan Chen still has a beautific head of hair. Perhaps a little more tousled than usual. Perhaps it’s the least of his worries. At least he is in one piece. Some of his competitors took a physical drubbing in the men’s free skate at Skate America. It was hurtful to watch at times.
The scariest moment came when Daniel Samohin, he of the bulldozer, bone-crushing falls, flipped out of his second jump, a quad Salchow, and he stretched his arms out to break his fall. And he dislocated his shoulder. For several agonizing moments, he tried to push it back in. Couldn’t. Somehow he scrambled to his feet, calling constantly for the music to stop, to show he could not continue as such. It was long and horrific. Although there were many red-shirted medical folk at the end of the rink, none came to help.
None. Perhaps they didn’t have ice grippers and feared for their own safety.
By the time that Samohin finally got off the ice, people in the audience had tears in their eyes. Resting their heads on their loved ones’ shoulders. Rather traumatized. Me, too. I had just spoken to this engaging young man in the morning.
Samohin never came back. Medical people pushed the shoulder back together and shipped him off to a local hospital to make sure nothing else was damaged. And Samohin went off into the good night (The snowfall came later.)
The Israeli Olympic Committee said later that Samohin would undergo physical therapy and would return to training in a week. Seems a rather ambitious schedule.
Chen was unaware of the incident. He was warming up in the backstage. So was Adam Rippon, who did exactly the same thing to his shoulder late last summer – pushing his arms out to break a fall.
”When I heard he dislocated his shoulder, I went: ‘Oh my god.’ I know how bad that feels,” Rippon said. “When I did it at home…I felt nauseous. I thought I was going to black out.”
Then Rippon went out and did the same thing with a fall on his first jump, a quad Lutz. It was the bird routine, and in a way, it fit into his choreography. He snatched his arm, pushed it back into its socket with a couple of yanks, shook it out and kept going.
“But now that I’ve done it again, It’s like: ‘Just get back in there buddy,’” he said. And he won the long program and the silver medal overall, unable to overcome Chen’s whopping lead after the short program.
Rippon used the incident to his favour. “You know what?” he said “I love drama.
“I wanted to show my character, that I’m really tough and I’m up for the challenge of anything, including the Olympic Games. I want to show that I’m a really reliable competitor. And that I’m going to be at the Olympics for Team USA and help them get a medal.
But first, I’ll see you all at Nagoya.”
So Rippon, with his performance, also qualified for the Grand Prix in two weeks in Japan. Only six men go. Chen has won two Grand Prix events now, and will also go as well as Skate America bronze medalist Sergei Voronov, who won Grand Prix Final bronze two years ago.
Then there was Chen. He emerged with only his ego bruised. But he did many amazing things too, including an opening quad Lutz –triple toe loop combo that earned him 20.04 points, with an array of +2s and a couple of +3s. A second solo quad Lutz came later – in the second half of the program!!!!! That got him 16.10 points alone.
But there were blemishes, too. He doubled a quad Salchow. His wonderful new quad-Salchow combination turned into a double toe loop –single loop – double Salchow. That’s just so not Chen.
He also singled an Axel in combination with a double toe loop.
And remember his coach, Rafael Arutunian busily smoothing out the nicks in his blade before his short program? They decided to solve the problem by replacing the blade altogether for the free. Just that blade.
After the free, Chen admitted it wasn’t a good call. The blade was very sharp – too sharp – on the inside edge, which would have affected his Salchows and Axels (the Axel is his nemesis anyway.) So we didn’t really see the Chen that we know is there.
He is so easy to like. A good lad, is Nathan Chen.
He uses the word “recalculate” often. He says he’ll be recalculating for the Grand Prix Final. He looks like an adult on the ice, but in a press conference row, betwixt Rippon at 28, and Voronov at 30, he looked quite boyish.
All three medalists were coached by Arutunian. Arutunian coached Voronov from the time he lived in Moscow, before he moved to the United States.
“He gave me the technical base,” Voronov said. “I was 10 years old and he taught me to do the double Axel and he do it in a way so that later, I was able to do the triple Axel.
“I’m a little bit envious – in a good sense – that [Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon] that they are working with Raf. And when I see him, it’s a kind of nostalgic feeling.”
Canadian men had a disappointing trip to Lake Placid. Liam Firus – a last-minute entrant – fared the best, finishing sixth in the free with his stunning “La La Land” routine. It’s not easy music to skate, and who else but Firus and his beautiful edges could carry it off?
Firus finished eighth overall. Kevin Reynolds ambitiously tried a quad loop to open his program and then fell on a quad toe loop. Doubled a late Axel. But what hurt Reynolds the most were four jump rotation downgrades, particularly on the quad Salchow and the first triple Axel.
He said he knew that his upper body was actually in an over-rotated position on most jumps, so that how could the rest of his body be underrotated? He would have fallen if that were so, he said.
He said he’s discouraged at such calls, after doing all the work to get it right. Makes you wonder why you bother, he suggested.
Reynolds finished 6.78 points behind Firus.
Roman Sadovsky, who was competing in his first senior Grand Prix and got the assignment only 1 ½ weeks ago, finished tenth.