ST. PAUL — Adam Rippon finished his long program without a successfully executed quad jump, and won the US men's title anyway. For some, it was a victory for artistry at a time when the world's best male skaters make quads a necessity for medal contenders. For others, it sparked more controversy about what makes a gold medal-worthy program.
Almost as soon as Rippon (270.75 points) secured his first national championship on Sunday, the corridors of the Xcel Energy Center came alive with heated conversation about artistry versus athleticism. While Rippon made the case for one side, silver medalist Max Aaron (269.55) and bronze medalist Nathan Chen (266.93) offered arguments for the other. Aaron landed two quads, while the 16-year-old Chen cleanly landed four.
But Rippon, 26, sold his Beatles-backed long program with veteran savvy and scored 182.74 with an artistic merit and expressiveness that Aaron and Chen lacked.
"I always keep a pulse on what is happening throughout the event, and I knew exactly what was going on, but it didn't change what I wanted to do and what I needed to do," said Rippon, who skated after Aaron and Chen. "I wanted to put out a really good quad Lutz. I wasn't able to land it, but I felt secure with the attempt in the rotation and I knew from there on out I needed to skate a strong program, and I am glad I was able to do that."
Meanwhile, Chen skated the most talked-about program. It was the first time any skater has landed four quads in a single program at the Nationals. The judges rewarded Chen with a technical score of 100.24 points, the highest score for total elements ever recorded at a US Nationals.
"It's a huge honor for me to score that high [in the free skate]," said Chen. "I was not planning that [four quads] going into the competition. But after the short program, I figured I was totally capable of doing it and I was ready to do it. I decided that I could just go for it. I had nothing really to lose at that point."
Ross Miner, who competes for the Skating Club of Boston and entered the long program in second place, finished fifth. After the competition, he revealed that a stress fracture in his back kept him from training adequately in December.
"Obviously I wish I had stuck with it a little bit better, but three weeks ago I didn't even think I was going to be here," said Miner. "I've been dealing with a stress fracture in my back and it's just been up and down."
Rippon, Aaron, and Chen will join the rest of the US team at the World Championships two months from now in Boston. The other team members were officially announced Sunday morning. In the women's competition, the United States will be represented by Nationals gold medalist Gracie Gold, runner-up Polina Edmunds, and third-place finisher Ashley Wagner. And they will try to end a nine-year medal drought for American women.
The last American women to reach the podium at the World Championships were Kimmie Meissner (gold) and Sasha Cohen (bronze) in 2006.
When asked to explain why US women have struggled to medal recently at Worlds, Wagner said, "At this point, if we had that answer, it wouldn't be a nine-year drought. I think that the international scene is so strong and it's getting stronger every single year. It's never a question whether or not the US ladies are capable of being on that podium, it's more of when are they going to step up to the challenge. In years past, we've faltered in one program or the other, so consistency has been the challenge for the World Team the last couple of years."
In 2015, the same trio represented the United States at the World Championships. They finished their short programs well behind the leaders with Edmunds in seventh, Gold in eighth, and Wagner in 11th. Much like their efforts at the Xcel Energy Center, Gold and Wagner followed poor short programs with impressive comebacks in the free skate. But at the international level, their comebacks resulted in fourth place for Gold and fifth place for Wagner.
Gold, who was born in Newton and won her first US title at TD Garden, hopes a return to Boston and a home country crowd will help the US women place in the top three.
"We've had great performances at the World Championships," said Gold. "So, while that statistic is really sad, I don't think US women have been irrelevant to the sport. It's just that elusive title.
"Last year was definitely my bad. The medal was mine for the taking . . . Worlds are in the US this year, we've had some great skates in Boston and the stars look like they are aligning. I think we have nothing to lose and we are all going to lay it out there. I think that we are all more than qualified."
Plus, they bring considerable experience. All three also represented the United States at the Worlds and Olympics in 2014.
In the ice dance, the top three teams at Nationals — Maia and Alex Shibutani, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, and Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue — will be in Boston. For the pairs, it will be US gold medalists Tarah Kayne and Danny O'Shea, and silver medalists Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim. Since the United States didn't qualify three teams in pairs, bronze medalists Marissa Castelli and Mervin Tran, who represent the Skating Club of Boston, were named first alternates.