American Chen starts strong at Grand Prix Final

Reigning world champion Nathan Chen, seen in this file photo, got the defence of his Grand Prix Figure Skating Final title off to a roaring start Thursday. — Reuters

LOS ANGELES — Reigning world champion Nathan Chen got the defense of his Grand Prix Figure Skating Final title off to a roaring start Thursday by seizing the early lead after the men's short program.

Chen, of the US, earned 92.99 points to grab a slim lead heading into Friday's free skate. Japan's Shoma Uno was second with 91.67 points and Czech Michal Brezina placed third with 89.21 just edging out Cha Jun-Hwan of South Korea in fourth. Russia's Sergei Voronov rounded out the top five.

Crowd favorite Keegan Messing, who is the lone Canadian in the event, placed sixth. The competition runs till Sunday and features 24 skaters and couples who have qualified from the half dozen competitions of the ISU grand prix series, comprising Skate America in Everett, Washington; Skate Canada in Laval, Quebec; Grand Prix Helsinki in Finland; NHK Trophy in Hiroshima, Japan; Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, Russia, and Internationaux de France in Grenoble.

Chen, who is the defending men's champion, entered the competition with plenty of confidence after finishing first in two grand prix series events. He scored his season's best of 280.57 points at Skate America.

He bounced back from a disappointing fifth-place finish at the PyeongChang Olympics to win the world title by the largest margin in history.

On Thursday, the Salt Lake City skater delivered a dynamic skate, impressing the judges by blending his superb choreography with the technical elements in his program.

Uno is the defending men's silver medalist and posted a season's best of 277.25 points at Skate Canada.

In the women's competition, Japan's Rika Kihira grabbed top spot after the ladies short program with a stunning 82.51 score to finish ahead of reigning Olympic and Grand Prix Final champ Alina Zagitova.

The women's competition is a Russia-Japan affair and Kihira prevented a Russian sweep of the top three spots as Zagitova and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva placed second and third.

Zagitova scored 77.93 points and Tuktamysheva recorded 70.65. They will be looking to overtake Kihira at Saturday's free skate. — AFP