Nathan Chen of the United States won the men’s short program as the Americans took a lead in the team competition on Friday in Beijing. David J. Phillip/Associated Press

BEIJING — It was supposed to be a foregone conclusion that Russia’s powerful stable of figure skaters, including world champions in three of the four disciplines, would run away with the team gold medal at the Beijing Olympics.

Nathan Chen and the rest of the Americans must have taken exception.

The three-time world champ’s winning short program set the tone for Team USA on Friday, and everyone else followed suit. Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue won the rhythm dance with a season-best score, and Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier capped the first of three days of team competition with a personal-best short program.

That left the Americans with 28 points, two ahead of the Russians and seven ahead of third-place China.

“We can walk away with a medal for sure. What color? It’s hard to say,” Chen said. “But I have faith in my teammates, and I know they’re going to do the best they can do.”

In fact, the only discipline they didn’t win was pairs. Knierim and Frazier were third behind China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, who set a world record with their short program, and Russians Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov.


“I’m so proud of us,” said Knierim, who helped the U.S. win team bronze four years ago in Pyeongchang. “I mean, there was a lot of push-down pressure within us. We just tried to ignore it, and we just rose to the occasion.”

There is still plenty of work to do for the Americans to climb the podium this time around.

The team event takes a break Saturday before the women’s short program Sunday, where the Russians will again be the favorites. After that, the top-five scoring nations advance to the free skates, with the medals decided Monday night.

Chen struggled to a fourth-place finish with his short program in the team event in Pyeongchang, and the dismal start to his Olympic debut four years ago carried right into the men’s event. His short program there was so strewn with mistakes that not even his brilliant free skate could land him on the podium.

Perhaps his flawless start in Beijing will send him in the other direction.

Performing to Charles Aznavour’s song “La Bohème,” Chen opened with a massive quad toe loop and landed the triple axel that often gives him problems. By the time he landed his quad salchow-triple toe loop combination, his technical mark was so far ahead of the field that first place was just about assured.


Chen received 111.71 points, a mark that would have won the men’s short program in Pyeongchang, and one that put him well clear of reigning Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan on Friday.

MEN’S HOCKEY: Six weeks after the NHL pulled out of the Olympics and three weeks since USA Hockey finalized the roster, the full team was finally on the ice together Friday for the first time.

Well, almost the full team.

Star college defenseman Jake Sanderson remained in Los Angeles in coronavirus protocol, while veterans Steven Kampfer and Andy Miele were isolating in the athletes village after testing positive upon arrival.

All 12 teams in the tournament are trying to get up to speed quickly, and the U.S. has the extra hiccup of missing three players, even though there’s hope each can produce two negative tests at least 24 hours apart and be ready by the first game.

“We’re optimistic,” Coach David Quinn said after the Americans’ first practice in Beijing. “It’s a day-to-day situation with these guys. We expect them to be back. It’s the world we live in. Every team’s going through it, and we’re no different.”


Each team is dealing with a different degree of difficulty pulling two dozen or more players together in a short period of time. Germany, China and others have tight-knit groups strengthened by established on- and off-ice chemistry, the opposite of Canada and the U.S. blending rosters with players ranging in age from 19 to 37.

WOMEN’S HOCKEY: Russia has gone from quarantine to an Olympic win in two days.

The Russians were in isolation in the Olympic Village from Monday to Wednesday and couldn’t train after one of the largest coronavirus outbreaks so far at the Beijing Games. It wasn’t an ideal situation ahead of its opening group game against Switzerland, but they still won 5-2.

“We came to the Olympics and we had to sit in our rooms without the opportunity to practice,” said Russian forward Alexandra Vafina, who had two assists. “It was hard but we got all together, we stayed positive and we took this little opportunity that we had.”

The United States and Canada each lost key players because of injury, but the Russians are worse hit with six of their original 23-player roster from last month now unavailable after virus positives, including captain Olga Sosina. Vafina said the team sent fun, supportive messages on a group chat to keep spirits up and ensure the replacement players who arrived later feel welcome.

Russia’s name and flag are banned from the Olympics in the fallout from years of doping disputes, so the team is playing as ROC, short for Russian Olympic Committee. The ROC team only had 18 skaters and two goaltenders available for the game, while Switzerland had its full allowance of 23 players.

• The United States will be without Brianna Decker for the rest of the Olympics after the forward injured her left leg in the tournament opener against Finland. Decker screamed in pain after being tripped from behind and was stretchered off the ice.

While the Americans know they will be without Decker the rest of the way, the other women’s hockey powerhouse faces injury uncertainty. Canada forward Melodie Daoust was injured when she was checked hard into the boards during the 12-1 rout of Switzerland. Hockey Canada has said only that Daoust was resting and being evaluated by medical personnel.

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