The completion of Trophee de France means that we are four events into the Grand Prix Series this season, and that also means that the race for the Grand Prix Final is starting to materialize. Next week will be particularly eventful at Cup of China, where there will be five women who have already won medals on the Grand Prix this year vying for the podium (and a GPF berth). But looking ahead even a bit more, Trophee de France shed light on a potentially very exciting race at U.S. Nationals in the men's event for the two Worlds spots.
Rippon rejoins the quad club
One of the big stories was reigning U.S. champion Adam Rippon's successful quad toe in the free skate. This follows Jason Brown's (sort of successful, but only because of an iffy underrotation call) quad toe at Skate America. So much of the narrative around Rippon and Brown for the past few seasons has been about how they are incredible skaters who don't have the technical goods to be World medal contenders. And while having one quad is kind of old news for the men, the promise of a reliable quad toe for both Rippon and Brown pushes their stock up tremendously.
But then again, the narrative around Rippon "not having a quad" has been overblown, in part because he's been attempting (with some underrotated success) the quad lutz for a couple of seasons now. And I say he *rejoins* the quad club because he has landed the quad toe in competition before, but that was a few years back. But oh man, what a difference it makes to have a fully-rotated clean quad in your free skate. He broke the 180-point FS mark for the first time in his career (182.28), just about matching the mark that Brown set at Skate America (182.63).
His free skate score isn't quite maxed out yet. He missed out on a second-half bonus on his first triple axel because he took off just a second too early for it to count in the bonus. Plus, a clean skate like this at a Worlds or a Grand Prix Final (if the stars align and he makes it) can get the GOEs and PCS high enough to put him in the 185-190 range.
At Skate America, Rippon noted that the goal for later in the season is to bring a quad back to his short program, and possibly reintroduce the quad lutz into his free skate. Will be interesting to see where that strategy is in a couple of months.
A masterpiece free skate
There was a lot of intrigue in Rippon's decision to scrap his original free skate that he had debuted at two early-season competitions. His original free skate was a solid piece, but there was something missing that kept it from being the kind of program that brings an audience to its feet. That said, skaters usually will persevere on with something that they had already started and invested time and energy into.
But Rippon made that switch in the couple of weeks between Japan Open and Skate America - tapping into an exquisite exhibition program from the off-season and revamping it into a competitive free skate. The result is an absolute work of art.
From the moment I watched this program in practice at Skate America, I saw something really special in the making. And from that competition to Trophee de France, it has continued to evolve into what will likely be Rippon's signature program. Everything about the composition of this program is magical - from the choreographic theme to the music selection to the intricacy of the in-betweens to the seamless interweaving of elements into the choreography. It is effortless, and it shows off the incredible skater that he has become in the past two seasons.
If you haven't watched it, you're missing out. If you have already watched it, do it again.
Chen figures into the equation
So why is U.S. Nationals going to be crazy? Well, joining Rippon and Brown as the frontrunners for the two spots for Worlds is Nathan Chen, who was supposed to be on that World team last year but had to withdrawal after injuring his hip so severely that he needed surgery. He comes back this season even stronger than last season in his technical content.
Over the weekend in Paris, Chen became the first person to ever land a quad lutz and a quad flip in the same program (in fact, he's the only one who has ever performed both of those jumps successfully in history). And he once again attempted five quads in his free skate, though with falls on two of them, which took him off the podium.
But the more revelatory thing for Chen at Trophee de France was the strides he has made, just in the past two months, on his components. That was particularly evident in the short program, where he showed a sense of line and space, and an understanding of music and projection that he has never shown before. His work with Marina Zueva over the past few months have paid off tremendously, and you no longer think of him as purely a jumper.
It's not to say that Chen's components are going to skyrocket, though they have already shown marked improvement. But it is to say that he's got his sights set on developing himself as an all-around skater, an all-around skaters with the most difficult technical content in the world.
Yes, U.S. Nationals is going to be insane.