The men’s competition was predicted to be a wide-open affair, and several skaters remain in contention for the title — and a place on the world championships team — going into Sunday’s free skate.
The top contenders: 2013 champion Max Aaron set the pace in the short program, scoring 91.83 points Friday to nab a whisper-thin lead. Second-place Ross Miner, a three-time U.S. medalist seeking his first title, trails by only .93 points; two-time runnerup Adam Rippon, also trying to win for the first time, is 2.89 points behind Miner. Big-jumping Nathan Chen, 16, sits less than two points behind Rippon and has the technical skill to leapfrog onto the podium.
On pointe: Aaron has been studying ballet to nurture his artistic side, and his long program, set to music from “Black Swan,” echoes that theme. But he can still jump out of the rink, too, and he is hoping that balance will get him another gold after disappointing finishes the past two years. Aaron plans two quad jumps and six triples in the free skate. His primary goal: completing a clean performance, something he said he has not yet done with this program.
Mining for gold: Getting onto the podium is only one of Miner’s many goals. A native of Boston who still lives and trains there, he is aching to make the U.S. team for the world championships — which will be held in his hometown in 10 weeks. Miner also wants to make up for poor performances at nationals the past two years; after winning silver in 2013 and bronze in 2011 and 2012, he fell to sixth place last year and seventh in 2014. On top of all that, Sunday is his 25th birthday. His program, accompanied by two songs by Queen, includes a quad and eight triple jumps.
Youth is served: Chen could make the world championships team with a top-three performance Sunday. Actually, he could make two of them. The Californian’s top priority is returning to the world junior championships, where he wants to win a title after finishing fourth last year. But his ability to do multiple quads could get him tapped for senior worlds as well, something he would welcome. “That would be a huge step for me,’’ he said. “It would be really cool.’’ In a free skate set to a Saint-Saens symphony, Chen — who on Friday became the first skater to land two quads in a short program at nationals — plans three quads and six triples.