LAS VEGAS — Nathan Chen found himself in a familiar place Saturday on the top step of the podium.
The podium at Skate America, to be precise.
The American superstar landed five quadruple jumps over two programs in his first competition in nine months, easily out-distancing Vincent Zhou and the rest of the field to win his record-tying fourth straight Skate America.
It also kept intact a streak of victories for Chen that dates to his fifth-place finish at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
"I made quite a few big mistakes in that program, things that I shouldn’t have made mistakes on," said Chen, whose soaring personal standards left him shrugging at his latest performance. "It is what it is. I’ll learn from it and move forward."
Canadian Keegan Messing finished third, earning his country’s lone medal of the weekend. It’s an improvement on his 2019 performance where he finished fourth, just outside the podium.
Chen, a two-time world champion, built a big lead in his short program Friday night before a shaky free skate, where he had to double a planned quad Salchow and missed a triple axel. But it was still enough for Chen to win the free skate with 187.98 points and give him 299.15 total, while Zhou’s two second-place programs gave him 275.10 and the silver medal. Messing finished with 266.42 points.
The high-flying Chen, who has taken leave from his studies at Yale to focus on the 2022 Beijing Games, is on a run of titles that includes a victory over two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu. His latest title at Skate America, one of the only Grand Prix events still going on amid the COVID-19 pandemic, matches the record shared by Michelle Kwan, Todd Eldredge and former Olympic champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White.
In the women’s event, Mariah Bell edged 2018 national champion Bradie Tennell to win arguably the biggest title of her career. The 24-year-old fell on a triple lutz to finish her program Saturday, and her score of 136.25 was only the fourth-best of the free skates. But her sterling short program gave her 212.73 points total — just 1.66 points ahead of Tennell, who won the free skate with a solid program that began with a triple axel-triple toe combination.
"I try not to look at outcomes, more how I feel," Bell said. "I’m walking away from this performance a little disappointed, and I look back at nationals and that’s a program I was really proud of. I want to feel really great about what I did."
16-year-old American skater Audrey Shin won the bronze medal, while the pairs and ice dance competitions conclude later Saturday night in the mostly empty Orleans Arena.
"This is everyone’s first major competition this season and we all had time off the ice," said Shin, who was making her Grand Prix debut, "but I felt like during those time I really focused on what I really love to do, and that’s skating. And coming back and training, I felt more motivated to improve. This was my time to perform and that was my goal here."