By Gina Capellazzi
Photo by Getty Images

Eight years after he won the U.S. junior national title in St. Paul, Minnesota, Adam Rippon returned to the same city and arena and won the gold medal at the 2016 U.S. Figure Skating Championships at the age of 26.

It was a close contest from beginning to end.

With 2015 U.S. champion Jason Brown withdrawing from the U.S. Championships due to a back injury, reigning U.S. bronze medalist Josh Farris not competing due to a concussion suffered last summer, and four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott sitting out this season, the opportunity was there for either 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron or 2012 and 2015 U.S. silver medalist Adam Rippon to claim the top spot. In addition, 16-year-old Nathan Chen, who had his most successful season ever on the Junior Grand Prix circuit, winning both his events and the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final title in December 2015, was also in the hunt for his first senior medal.

Coming into the free skate, Chen had already made history by becoming the first man to attempt two quadruple jumps in a short program at the U.S. Championships. After turning out of the landing of his opening quad Salchow, he landed an impressive quad toe-triple toe combination. He made history again in the free skate, becoming the first man to land four quadruple jumps (two Salchows and two toe loops) in a free skate at the U.S. Championships. His technical score in the free skate eclipsed the 100-point mark and he posted a total score of 266.93.

Next to skate was Aaron, who led after the short program. He successfully completed two quad Salchows and five triple jumps in his free skate, but doubled a planned triple Salchow. He received 177.72 points in the free skate for a total score of 269.55.

Rippon followed Aaron and, although he fell on a quad Lutz attempt at the beginning of his free skate that was deemed under-rotated by the technical panel, he went on to land eight triples, including two triple Axels. He earned positive grade of execution (GOE) marks on 12 of his 13 technical elements, highlighted by level 4 spins and footwork, to win the free skate for the second straight year. He demonstrated his abilities as a well-rounded skater by earning the highest program components score (90.58), by over four points, and his 182.74 free skate score and 270.75 total was enough to win the title by just over one point.

“It’s not a jump competition; it’s not a choreography competition, and it’s not a spin competition. It takes a little bit of everything.” Rippon said when being asked, at the press conference following the men’s free skate, why he won over silver medalist Aaron and bronze medalist Chen.

Grant Hochstein, who had finished in fourth place at both of his Grand Prix events earlier this fall, added another fourth place finish to his resume this season, but won a medal this time (the U.S. Championships has a tradition of awarding a pewter medal for fourth place). Hochstein’s previous best placement at nationals was seventh (2010) and he will join Rippon and Aaron in representing the U.S. at his first ISU Four Continents Championships, February 16-21, in Chinese Taipei.

Ross Miner, who was in second after the short program, fell to fifth place overall. Miner, who won the bronze medal at the Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix in Russia earlier this season, had hoped to make the top three in St. Paul in order to have the opportunity to compete in the World Championships being held in his hometown of Boston. Rounding out the top six was Alexander Johnson, who improved on his 11th place at last year’s nationals, finishing 6th overall, his best-ever finish at the senior level. Johnson originally is from Minnetonka, Minnesota, which is less than an hour away from St. Paul. [Note:  FigureSkatersOnline.com (FSO) is proud to host the official websites of four of the top six finishers – Rippon, Chen, Hochstein and Johnson – all of whom recorded their highest Nationals placements this year, along with a fifth FSO skater, Sean Rabbitt, who placed ninth, also his best finish as a senior.]

Rippon, Aaron and Chen will represent the U.S. at the World Championships in Boston, Massachusetts in March 28-April 2, 2016. (Note: Brown had petitioned to be considered for selection to the world team, but was unsuccessful.)

Chen also is scheduled to compete at the ISU World Junior Championships in Hungary, March 14-20, 2016. However, not long after the conclusion of the men’s free skate event at the U.S. Championships on January 24, Chen had to stop his exhibition performance to Aerosmith’s “Dream On” at the Skating Spectacular. U.S. Figure Skating has since confirmed that Chen re-aggravated a pre-existing hip injury, is seeking treatment, and that further information would be provided as it became available.