By Elaine Lies
NAGOYA, Japan (Reuters) – Nathan Chen of the United States edged Japan’s Shoma Uno in the men’s short program to take the lead at the Grand Prix final on Thursday, setting up a showdown between the two jumping powerhouses two months before the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics.
On the first day of the competition, often seen as a key step on the road to the Olympics, Chen took 103.32 points for his dynamic, clean routine, while Uno, performing in his hometown of Nagoya in central Japan, had an unusual fall on a triple axel and ended up with 101.51 points.
Chen pulled off a quad lutz and triple toeloop at the start of his program to “Nemesis,” by Benjamin Clementine, then a quad flip and triple axel, after which he appeared to pump his fists briefly.
“I’m very happy tonight,” Chen told reporters. “I made a couple of mistakes in the landing of the quads, but my triple axel was better than at Skate America so I’m happy with that.”
Uno, skating to the “Winter” section of Antonin Vivaldi’s “Four Seasons,” executed a clean quad flip followed by a quad toeloop and triple toeloop that had the audience cheering, but fell on a late triple axel.
“I made a new type of mistake today, the triple axel is a jump I know I can land,” Uno said, but added he still felt he “did everything I could.”
“I’ll make efforts to put plenty of jumps I can do into my routine tomorrow.”
Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada was third with 99.22 points two days after the International Olympic Committee (IOC) banned his country from next year’s Games in South Korea for “unprecedented systematic manipulation” of the anti-doping system.
However, President Vladimir Putin and other Russian officials have said they won’t stand in the way of their athletes taking part in Pyeongchang as neutrals.
The IOC said Russians could compete at the Feb. 9-25 Games as an “Olympic Athlete of Russia” if they satisfy strict conditions that show they have a doping-free background.
Asked about the situation, Kolyada said: “I have not been reading the news, I have tried to stay away from that, because it is distracting. The main thing obviously is to get to the Olympic games.”
He later told a news conference: “If you think of what Russia’s done, I think the decision is reasonable.”
In the pairs, Germany’s Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, facing their first Olympics together, took a surprise lead in the short program on 79.43 points with an entertaining routine to “That Man” by Cara Emerald which got a standing ovation.
The Chinese pair of Wenjing Sui and Cong Han, strong favorites going into Pyeongchang, were third after Han fell on their first jump and are nearly four points off the lead.
French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron (82.07) took a slender lead in the short dance over Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir of Canada (81.53). Maia and Alex Shibutani of the United States were third with 78.09.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by Ken Ferris and Toby Davis)