Defending champ Chen opens strong at Skate America

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Los Angeles (AFP)

Nathan Chen launched his bid for a third straight Skate America title in style Friday, scoring 102.71 points in his short programme at the first ISU Grand Prix event of the season in Las Vegas.

America's two-time reigning world champion opened his short programme to "La Boheme" with a quadruple Lutz, followed by a triple Axel and a quadruple toe-triple toe combination.

Russian Dmitri Aliev was in second place, trailing Chen with 96.57 points after a short programme that included a quadruple Lutz and a quadruple toe.

Canadian Keegan Messing was in third on a personal-best 96.34 points.

Chen said his opening quadruple lutz was a little shaky.

"This is my first time performing the short programme in a competitive setting," he said. "I'm not entirely happy with exactly how the programme went. However, it's the first outing and I'm pretty OK with it.

"I'm looking forward to competing tomorrow, hopefully clean up some of the mistakes I made today and just keep going for it."

Chen, 20, hasn't lost a Grand Prix event since his silver medal at the Grand Prix Final in 2016, and it seems unlikely he'll be caught in Vegas, which is hosting the event for the first time.

It was an emotional night for Messing, who was competing less than a month after his younger brother, Paxon, was killed when an SUV collided with his motorcycle.

The 27-year-old Canadian said just making the trip to Vegas was difficult.

"All the elements seemed pretty solid today," he said. "I was just really happy to be able to come here and skate.

"Coming here this week was a huge decision for me with everything that's happened."

China's Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, who were fourth at the World Championships in Japan in March, grabbed a narrow lead in the pairs short programme their 72.73 points putting them just 1.48 ahead of Russian Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin.

US champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc were third on 68.20.

In the women's short programme, former US champion Bradie Tennell leads a pair of Japanese skaters with 75.10 points.

Tennell, who has had trouble cracking the top five in the series of late, has a slight lead over Kaori Sakamoto and Wakaba Higuchi. Sakamoto scored 73.25 points and Higuchi had 71.76.