St. Paul, Minn. — Adam Rippon interrupted Nathan Chen to marvel at the idea of doing four quadruple jumps in one practice session, let alone the free skate at the U.S. Championships.
Rippon didn’t land any Sunday, but he is now the national champion — while Chen, his 16-year-old training partner, was third despite becoming the first American man to complete four in one program. And the runner-up, Max Aaron, had two on a day sure to reignite the debate about the value of artistry vs. athleticism in figure skating.
The 26-year-old Rippon fell on his only quad attempt, but he is vastly ahead of Aaron and Chen in the expression and choreography that still make up a huge part of scores.
“It’s not a jump competition; it’s not a choreography competition, and it’s not a spin competition,” Rippon said. “It takes a little bit of everything.”
While Aaron and Chen did little more than obligatory movements of their arms between their jumps, saving energy for the quads, Rippon sped through complex footwork in perfect timing to his Beatles medley.
“I really think my experience and my maturity was what helped me prevail,” he said.
Rippon has struggled to live up to his potential for much of his career, and in recent years, he has repeatedly questioned whether he wanted to stay in the sport. He had a breakthrough performance at the 2015 U.S. Championships for his second runner-up finish but had not reached that level again until Sunday.
“You should never give up on yourself, because there have been many times that I’ve wanted to,” he said.
Rippon cleanly landed eight triple jumps after the fall on his opening quadruple lutz and earned top marks for his spins and footwork. He burst into tears when his scores were announced to vault him into first place ahead of Aaron and Chen.
Rippon earned 182.74 points for his free skate for a total of 270.75. Aaron, the 2013 U.S champ who led after the short program, received 177.72 points for 269.55 total. Chen had 180.60 points for 266.93 total after he fell on a triple axel, a jump he called “still the main issue with me.”
Ross Miner, who was in second place after the short program, had hoped to give himself a 25th birthday present Sunday of a trip back home to Boston for the world championships. But he dropped to fifth after a mistake-filled skate.
Chen will compete in both the junior and senior world championships. Jason Brown, who was unable to defend his U.S. title because of a back strain, petitioned to be added to the worlds team, but the federation decided to send Chen and Aaron along with Rippon, who was the only skater guaranteed a spot.
The junior worlds end March 18 in Hungary and senior worlds start March 30 in Boston.
On Friday, Chen became the first American man to land two quads in the short program. His initial plan had been for three in the free skate, but he felt good enough Sunday to try for four.
“This is an awesome step for me as a senior skater,” he said.
Aaron skated immediately after Chen, hearing the cheers but not sure how many quads his young rival had landed. Unfazed, he cleanly landed both his quads, but he did a double salchow instead of a triple in a combination and lost points on a step sequence.
“I am upset because I’ve done this program clean so many times this year — not just technically but everything all together,” he said.
Brown won last year without any quads, too. Those jumps are virtually a prerequisite to win a medal at worlds these days, and Rippon insisted he’ll be doing all he can to improve his quad lutz between now and the March 30 short program in Boston.
Rippon predicted: “I am positive Nathan will have many national championships.” This year, though, the national champion is a skater nearly a decade older with no quads.