2022 Olympics figure skating: Nathan Chen gives US an early lead in team competition – USA TODAY

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BEIJING — So far, so good for Nathan Chen and the U.S. Olympic figure skating team.

With a calm, clean short program by the reigning three-time world champion, Team USA raced out to an early lead Friday in the team competition at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics. The Americans won the first two events – the men’s short program and rhythm dance – and are sitting in first place in the 10-country competition after Day 1.

The Russian Olympic Committee, which is favored to win gold in the team event, is in second place, followed by China in third. The top five teams after the women’s short program Sunday will advance to the free skates, with medals awarded Monday.

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“Our team has great potential, and I think that was demonstrated in today’s performances,” said veteran ice dancer Evan Bates, the captain of the U.S. team. “I don’t necessarily think that we feel surprised leading the team event. Looking at our roster, we know we have the potential to bring home a gold medal in this event.”

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Chen, 22, got things started Friday by landing both of his quads and a triple axel en route to a season-best score of 111.71.

The favorite to win gold in the men’s individual event, he donned a simple black sport coat while skating to a rendition of “La Boheme” by Charles Aznavour, drawing loud cheers from the rest of Team USA’s skaters, perched at the end of the rink. Pairs skater Kaitlin Hawayek, one of his closest friends, held up a handmade sign that read “10 for Chen.”

“It feels great to be able to have a short program that I actually skated well, at an Olympic experience,” Chen said with a laugh, alluding to his disastrous short program at the 2018 Games. “So (I will) take as much as I can from this experience and then take it day by day from here.”

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Olympic figure skater Nathan Chen is the gold medal favorite in Beijing

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Jarrad Henderson, USA TODAY

Chen, who has won each of the past three world championships and six consecutive national titles, will now likely shift his focus to the individual competition, where he is favored to win gold. 

He also said he was not planning to walk in the opening ceremony later Friday.

“I already did it once,” he said. “And (it’ll be) close proximity with a lot of people. I’m sure it will be safe, but I compete in a couple more days, so at this point, (I’ll just) focus on that.”

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Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, meanwhile, said they’ll be there. They have long talked about wanting to savor these Olympics, which will be their last before retiring. 

The longtime ice dancing partners also notched a season-best score with their rhythm dance, set to music by Janet Jackson – edging teams from Italy and the Russian Olympic Committee with a score of 86.56. And their performance also offered a bit of redemption, after a stumble in the rhythm dance at nationals last month cost them the title.

“We’ve been training exceptionally well, working on just narrowing the focus and narrowing that margin of error, for probably the last six weeks,” Hubbell said. “We knew that we needed to just stay calm, trust the training that we did at home and not try to oversell it.”

Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who were unable to compete at nationals after Frazier tested positive for COVID-19, rounded out the day for Team USA with a surprising third-place finish in the pairs’ short program.  

The U.S. won bronze in the team event at each of the past two Winter Olympics, and it was expected to be vying for that last spot on the podium in Beijing, too. But when asked if the Americans had talked about winning gold, Hubbell laughed.

“Of course. Are you joking? Of course Team USA talked about winning gold,” she said. “I think it would be so silly to count ourselves out and plan for silver or bronze, you know? Anything can happen on the day. We’ve all trained incredibly hard to deliver our best, and gold is what we’re going for.”

Contact Tom Schad at tschad@usatoday.com or on Twitter @Tom_Schad.