The U.S. Figure Skating Championships, the final event to decide the Olympic team, is underway in San Jose, California.
Senior competition runs from Jan. 3 through Jan. 7. The men took the ice on Thursday night to compete in their short program.
Nathan Chen entered as the biggest favorite among the four disciplines, and his short program did not disappoint. Despite being sick, Chen finished in first place with a 104.45 score, which placed him well ahead of Adam Rippon (96.52) and Jason Brown (93.23), a 2014 team bronze medalist at the Sochi Olympics.
Although Chen’s triple axel wasn’t his cleanest, he hit two quads in a compelling program that was as athletic as it was artistic. The reigning national champion landed a quadruple flip, triple toe combination plus a quadruple toe and a triple Axel.
Last year, Chen shattered U.S. Championship scoring records as he became the youngest U.S. men’s gold medalist since 1966.
Since the start of the 2016 season, the 18-year-old has had an impressive ascent. Chen became the first skater to land five quadruple jumps in one program at last year’s U.S. figure skating championships.
“The circumstances going into this competition weren’t great,” Chen said when interviewed by NBC Sports. “I’ve struggled before with illness, with injury and I know that I can push through anything. Basically that’s what I tried to remind myself here and to really trust all the training that I’ve done this entire season. Trust all the competitions and use that to fuel myself for here.”
Chen is America’s best bet for an Olympic figure skating gold medal. The biggest question is, who will join Chen in PyeongChang? Past U.S. champions Adam Rippon, Max Aaron and Jason Brown are the next highest-ranked U.S. men this season.
Here are the results from Thursday’s short program:
Nathan Chen, Salt Lake Figure Skating 104.45
Adam Rippon, SC of New York 96.52
Jason Brown, Skokie Valley SC 93.23
Grant Hochstein, SC of New York 92.18
Vincent Zhou, SC of San Francisco 89.02
Ross Miner, SC of Boston 88.91
Timothy Dolensky, Atlanta FSC 85.06
Aleksei Krasnozhon, Dallas FSC 82.58
Andrew Torgashev, Panthers FSC 81.32
Alexander Johnson, Braemar-City 79.60
Jimmy Ma, SC of New York 75.28
Max Aaron, Broadmoor SC 74.95
Sean Rabbitt, Glacier Falls FSC 73.22
Emmanuel Savary, University of Delaware 64.65
Tomoki Hiwatashi, DuPage FSC 63.48
Sebastien Payannet, Los Angeles FSC 61.29
Scott Dyer, All Year FSC 60.17
Daniel Kulenkamp, Southern California 60.15
Ben Jalovick, Centennial 7k SC 56.12
Jordan Moeller, Northern Ice SC 55.35
Kevin Shum, SC of Boston 52.04
The men will compete in the free skate on Saturday, airing on NBC Sports Network from 8 p.m. to 11 p.m.