Nathan Chen lands record 5 quads for U.S. title, believes Olympic gold is possible

Leave a comment

KANSAS CITY — Nathan Chen wanted to put U.S. men’s figure skating back on the world stage after a seven-year medal drought. He chose this week’s U.S. Championships to try to become the first skater to land five quadruple jumps in one program.

The 17-year-old wunderkind landed all of them cleanly en route to the best performance in nationals history Sunday.

A record score (318.47 points; previous best was 274.98 under a 12-year-old judging system). A record winning margin (55.44 points; previous best was 32.71). The youngest U.S. men’s champion in 51 years.

Consider the message sent to the world.

Now, is an Olympic gold medal possible in PyeongChang in 13 months?

“I believe it’s possible, yeah,” Chen said after bringing the curtain down at the U.S. Championships on Sunday. “It’s still in the distance for me. There’s so much room I have to improve to make myself at that level, but I think it’s definitely possible.”

In terms of jumping, Chen needs no improvement. Previously one of a few men to land four quads in one program, Chen now stands alone. He landed seven quads between two programs at Sprint Center, including four different quads in the free skate.

Chen next goes to the Four Continents Championships at the PyeongChang Olympic venue next month, and then the World Championships in Helsinki in late March. No U.S. man has earned a worlds medal since Evan Lysacek‘s title in 2009. Chen can end that drought.

“We’re pushing back up to where we should be,” Chen, the youngest of five children whose parents emigrated from Beijing, said of the U.S. men after the short program. “We kind of sunk a little bit, but I think me and some of the other skaters coming up at this event will help bring the U.S. back on the map.”

Maybe others will join Chen in the future, but for now he is the only American medal contender.

He’s joined on the world championships team by Jason Brown, who attempted zero quads this week but hopes to add one or two for worlds after getting over a Dec. 16 stress fracture in his right fibula.

Back to Chen.

The Salt Lake City native who started skating at age 3 on a 2002 Olympic practice rink first put the world on notice at the Grand Prix Final in December.

That’s the second-biggest annual figure skating competition. And the most exclusive, taking the top six skaters per discipline from the fall Grand Prix season.

He struggled in the short program, falling on one quad and stepping out of the landing of the other. Cut him some slack. It was his first time skating under that kind of pressure.

But Chen dazzled in the free skate, landing all four quads for the top score that day and a silver medal overall. He bettered Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan by 10 points and world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain by 20 points. Hanyu tried four quads, falling on one. Fernandez tried two quads.

Chen came home from France and set out on improving upon that free skate by re-adding a quadruple Salchow to his quad Lutz, quad flip and two quad toe loops.

“It’s something that I knew I was capable of doing,” Chen said. “It wasn’t exactly a game-time decision [for nationals], but I prepared it, and it was something I was ready to do.”

He actually tried all five at his first two events this season but fell twice in each program. It was an audacious move to go for, given it marked Chen’s first competitions since January hip surgery that kept him off the ice for five and a half months.

“Life often tests us, it puts us through examinations, and Nathan gets all sorts of scrutiny from it, too,” his coach Rafael Arutyunyan, said recently. “But this young man walks out of all such pressing situations as the winner. He behaves like a real man.”

Chen’s timing, breaking out one season before the Olympics, just about matches his talent. He’s creating buzz not seen in U.S. men’s skating since 2010.

Which brings this to mind: Seven years ago, a 10-year-old Chen was the youngest skater at the U.S. Championships.

Chen could barely see over the boards, but he won the novice division and brought an exhibition gala crowd to its feet and sheepishly said he thought he would be at the Olympics in 2018.

A month later, American Evan Lysacek won the Vancouver Olympic title without attempting a quadruple jump, beating noted quad practitioner Yevgeny Plushenko. Chen calls Plushenko his favorite childhood skater.

Figure skating scores are of course about more than how many times one rotates in the air (from the landings of those jumps to artistry and more), but the result was slammed by some as setting the sport back. The 1998, 2002 and 2006 Olympic champions had all landed quads.

Canadian Elvis Stojko, the 1994 and 1998 Olympic silver medalist, said as much in a Yahoo Sports column titled, “The night they killed figure skating.”

U.S. men’s figure skating went dormant after Lysacek’s victory. They have not earned a world championships medal since.

At the 2014 Olympics, the top U.S. finisher was Brown in ninth. Brown did not attempt a quad, but the top eight men did. Every year from 2013 through 2016, the U.S. Championships crowned a new men’s champion. None of them have proven dependable when it comes to clean quad jumping.

“We’ve kind of not had the results we should have had over the past few years,” Chen said in a press conference Sunday, sitting next to Brown.

Meanwhile, Chen continued to rack up novice and junior titles while training ballet (“I enjoyed it more for a social aspect than an actual artistic aspect”) and playing hockey. He no longer plays hockey and cut back on the ballet.

In November 2014, Chen landed his first quadruple toe loop in competition. He’s added three more quads in the last two years working in Los Angeles under Arutyunyan, the Armenian who also coaches U.S. women’s silver and bronze medalists Ashley Wagner and Mariah Bell.

Then, last year, he became the youngest man to finish in the U.S. Championships top three since 1973 (and the first U.S. man to land four quads in one program). Chen aggravated a hip injury later that night in the exhibition gala and needed surgery. He couldn’t walk without a brace for two months. No World Championships.

Chen spent weeks away from Arutyunyan this fall, working in Michigan with Marina Zoueva, who guided the last two Olympic ice dance champions. Chen wanted to improve his artistic marks. He’s done that, and since going back to Arutyunyan around Thanksgiving has incredibly upped his jumping game as well.

Chen followed his record free skate Sunday by sitting down for an interview with the in-arena announcer. The leftover crowd applauded, and then Chan was nonchalantly asked what he was up to.

“Not much,” Chen said, “just skating on a normal sunny day.”

MORE: Gracie Gold splits with coach Frank Carroll

Michael Phelps on Ledecky, Bolt, McGregor, Boomer’s first words

AP
Leave a comment

NEW YORK — Michael Phelps sat down for a quick Q&A last week while visiting to promote Colgate’s #EveryDropCounts campaign

(condensed and lightly edited)

OlympicTalk: What was your favorite moment of the summer’s world swimming championships?

Phelps: I loved watching Caeleb [Dressel] do some of the things that he did. It’ll be interesting to see what his event program looks like over the next couple of years to see if he adds or takes away any events. It’s good to start at world championships and show and see that you can do it at a world championships. Now I would say it’s really trying to perfect that schedule. We started doing a schedule like that in ’02 or ’03, and it took us four to six years to really kind of figure out what the best way to do it was. We perfected it by Beijing.

Also Katie [Ledecky]. I’ve talked to Katie a little bit over the last couple of weeks. It’s fun to see and hear her excitement level. Coming off a world championships after an Olympic year is always challenging. The world championships after an Olympics is usually kind of blah. It’s going to be fun to watch her transition the next couple of years and see what happens.

It’s fun watching some of these younger guys now step up, younger women step up and swim some of the times they’re swimming. I literally said to [my agent] this morning, “I probably could come back, but I just have zero desire.”

Like, I have a friend who is in the process of making a choice to continue or to stop [competing]. I was like, yeah, it’s fun, I’m finally back into working out again, like, pretty big, where I’ve lost probably 12 to 15 pounds since my highest point. It’s just getting back into that rhythm. It’s something for me that’s so easy and so simple to do. I was like, “I think it would be really easy to do it [return to competitive swimming]. I just don’t have any goals. I have nothing to come back and want to do.”

OlympicTalk: What sense did you get from Ledecky of what she thought about her world championships performance?

Phelps: It’s tough to always drop time, right? I went almost six years without doing a best time [from 2011 Worlds to his 4x100m free relay split at the 2016 Olympics]. It’s annoying. It’s the worst. I absolutely hated it. But if you do have meaningful goals, and they do keep getting you out of bed every single morning to go in and try and perfect them, then you’ll be fine.

From an outsider looking on, my opinion, it’s hard to watch when she’s reached this high point where she’s basically broken every single world record countless times — over and over and over and over and over again. There are times you’ll plateau a hair. It just depends on what you do to make that next step. For me, I’m hoping she jumps. I’m hoping she takes a huge hurdle.

I basically just reached out and was like, I’d love to help. There are very few people that understand what you’re going through. Let me know if I can do anything.

It’s going to be fun to watch her really, I would say, almost go back to the basics. She obviously knows what to do to be the best. She’s proved it time and time again. It’ll be fun to watch her grow.

OlympicTalk: So you reached out to her?

Phelps: I reached out to her. Just checking to make sure she’s OK. There’s probably three or four people on the national team that I’ll talk to.

OlympicTalk: I’m wondering who that swimmer is who is thinking whether to come back.

Phelps: You’ll see soon enough.

OlympicTalk: American?

Phelps: Yeah.

OlympicTalk: Do you consider Dressel’s seven golds at worlds, with two in the new mixed-gender relays, the same as your feat in 2007?

Phelps: Obviously, seven gold medals is seven gold medals, right? For me, [2007 World Championships] was the first time I could have won eight [gold medals], but we DQed in morning [medley] relay.

You can’t take anything away from winning seven gold medals, right? There are very few people who have had that opportunity. It doesn’t matter if it’s a relay or an individual event. A relay event is kind of more challenging because we all have to work together.

I’m not a huge fan of the mixed relays, but I’m not in the sport anymore. But I think it is kind of cool that it’s basically a chess match, right? Try to figure out the best order [of male and female swimmers].

It’s going to be really challenging for anybody to put a team together that can beat the U.S. Our depth is just ridiculous.

OlympicTalk: Chase Kalisz said before worlds that you said some things to him after his Olympic silver medal that he won’t forget. What can you share about that?

Phelps: I just said if he wants to win a gold medal, make sure he always remembers what a silver feels like. There’s going to be countless days where he’s probably not going to want to go to work out. Or he’s probably not going to want to make that extra little bit of commitment to make sure he has a better chance to win that gold medal next time.

And you have every four years to have that chance. I just want to make sure the kid’s ready. I was always somebody who worked better with past experiences. If I had a defeat, that’s what made me get out of bed in the morning, to make sure I did not have that feeling of getting second. I hated getting second.

And I know how bad he wants to win [an Olympic] gold medal. He knows what he’s doing. He’s swimming well. He’s training well. He had a great year [sweeping the 200m and 400m individual medleys at worlds].

OlympicTalk: Did you watch Usain Bolt’s last races, and did it make you think of anything, the way it ended for him?

Phelps: I’m sure that’s probably not how he wanted it to end, somebody who has had great success for three Olympics, right?

Who knows, maybe he does come back and do something again? For me, that was the biggest thing of why I wanted to come back. I had that 400m IM and 200m butterfly in 2012 that just left a sour taste in my mouth. I didn’t want that for the rest of my life.

OlympicTalk: Have you heard anything from Conor McGregor?

Phelps: No. I don’t think I will. I don’t think he’ll reach out for a race.

OlympicTalk: Has Boomer spoken his first words?

Phelps: He wakes up every morning and screams “Da-Da!”

OlympicTalk: So does that count?

Phelps: I’m counting it. He said “Da-Da” before “Mom,” so yeah. I mean, that’s all he says. I’m the morning guy. I take the morning shift. So every morning he’s yelling dad at the top of his lungs.

OlympicTalk: You’ve spoken about your campaign with Colgate before. What’s new this time around?

Phelps: We’re becoming a family four, five if you add [eight-time Olympic medalist] Allison [Schmitt], and if you think, the average family per day can waste up to 400 gallons. We can waste so much water. It’s not just brushing your teeth or taking a shower. You think about everything else that goes into that. We have a big yard, so water in the yard. Always trying to make sure we’re saving every single drop. It’s something we can all work on together.

Since we first launched the campaign, I think I’ve found more and more that people are coming up and being like, every time I brush my teeth now I think of you and turn off the water. People are doing it, and we want to make another push to get people on board.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

VIDEO: Phelps says he could come back if he wanted to

Lolo Jones the latest bobsledder to suffer concussion effects

Lolo Jones
AP
Leave a comment

Lolo Jones said she suffered concussion symptoms after a Wednesday bobsled accident and that it’s “the weirdest injury” of her two-sport career.

“I’ve learned a lot in the past week about concussions and treatments,” was posted on her Instagram on Sunday. “This was the weirdest injury I’ve had in my life. Some days I would wake up feeling great and then one thing would have me dismantled in minutes. I’m grateful to sports med, my coaches and my teammates all who shut me down to protect my health.

Jones, one of 10 Americans to compete in both the Summer and Winter Olympics, joked that she used her free time off social media the last few days “to call up all of my exes because clearly I wasn’t thinking right.”

Jones was one of six push athletes named to the U.S. national team earlier this month. It’s expected that three of those six will make the Olympic team this winter.

The World Cup season starts the second weekend of November in Lake Placid, N.Y.

Concussions are not uncommon for bobsledders. Even with helmets, their high-speed crashes are high-risk.

Elana Meyers Taylor, a two-time Olympic medalist, suffered a concussion in a race crash on Jan. 26, 2015. The after-effects lasted into the following season, causing her to miss four races.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: U.S. bobsledders remember Steven Holcomb as Olympic season starts