Nathan Chen, quad king, ups ante at world championships; men’s preview

3 Comments

Nathan Chen landed a record seven quadruple jumps at each of his two most recent competitions. He may try for eight this week in a bid to become the youngest men’s world champion of all time.

The 17-year-old wunderkind, who spent two months last year in a leg brace, is the star attraction of the world figure skating championships in Helsinki.

Chen is certainly a favorite to earn the first U.S. men’s worlds medal since 2009.

He’s arguably the man to beat for gold, coming in with the highest total score in the world this season.

That mark was set at his most recent competition last month, the Four Continents Championships, where Chen beat Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu at the 2018 Olympic venue in South Korea.

Chen faced repeated questions about gold medals in a media call last week and refused to bite on outside expectations.

“This is my first worlds,” he stressed, twice. “It’s already in itself a big stepping stone for me to be at my first world championships and competing against everyone together in one event. This is the same people, basically, who will be competing at the Olympics. But a lot can change, as you’ve seen with me, in the course of year.”

Chen, the 10-year-old darling of the 2010 U.S. Championships, would have made his senior worlds debut last season. But he aggravated a hip injury at the U.S. Championships exhibition gala in January 2016. He needed surgery. It took two months before he could walk without a brace.

Now, after rehab and a steady rise of a season, Chen downplays talk of possibly toppling Hanyu and two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain.

“From a technical aspect, of course, I think I’m at that level to be able to make the podium, at least,” Chen said. “But it just really depends on what [other skaters] do and how clean I’m able to perform.”

PREVIEWS: Men | Women | Pairs | Dance | TV schedule

It was believed that if Chen landed his record seven quadruple jumps between two clean programs — like he did at nationals in January and Four Continents in February — and Hanyu has two clean programs, then Hanyu wins.

But on Monday, Chen showed in practice that he may attempt an additional quad in his free skate.

On the same day, major Japanese newspaper Mainichi Shimbun ran a story hyping a Chen-Hanyu clash at worlds with an infographic comparing the two skaters’ scores from Four Continents.

“I’m not going into the competition scared that I’ll be outdone [by Chen],” Hanyu said, according to the newspaper’s translation (though it is unclear if they are recent comments or from last month). “Rather, I want to go for perfection.”

Hanyu, who broke scoring world records last season, has not been perfect this season.

He had major jumping errors at December’s Grand Prix Final (where a clean Chen outscored him in the free skate) and in both programs at Four Continents (where Chen topped him in the short program).

If Chen does eight quads, that’s two more than Hanyu’s typical total this season, and three more than Fernandez, but skating is not all about jumps. The veterans can still outpoint Chen in other areas.

Chen proved last month he can handle the pressure. He competed on the 2018 Olympic rink right after Hanyu posted the highest free-skate score in the world this season. Chen, cushioned by a short-program lead, did enough in his five-quad program to hold off Hanyu’s charge.

Chen landed his first quadruple jump at age 15 and by last season was up to four quads in a free skate. Now, he could try six quads in his free in Helsinki.

“Even when I was younger, I never really saw an end to where we could take jumps,” said Chen, the youngest of five children to parents who emigrated from Beijing. “But I never really thought that I would be doing the stuff that I’m doing.”

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Ashley Wagner knows pressure’s on her at worlds

Simone Biles returns to the gym, going from mental drain to physical pain

Getty Images
Leave a comment

For Simone Biles, this was supposed to be the stretch run of a legendary career.

Instead, she returned to her gym on May 18 with long-term thoughts of waiting 14 months until the Tokyo Olympics. And the immediate aches of a world-class gymnast who just missed nearly two months of regular training.

“After that amount of time off, it kind of sucks because your body hurts and then you get really sore,” Biles said in a pre-recorded ESPNW interview that aired Thursday. “So you just have to get back into the swing of things. But it felt nice to see my coaches, my teammates, and just to be back on the equipment and in the environment.”

In that same Texas gym three months ago, Biles had a far different outlook. One that would have put fear into any gymnast who still harbored ambition of ending her near-seven-year win streak.

“I never felt more ready this early in the season,” she said. “I was so ready for the Olympics to be this year.”

Biles repeated in interviews the last two months that the Olympic postponement to 2021 was devastating. Thoughts zig-zagged: How do I go on another year, at age 23, in a sport recently dominated by (but not limited to) teenagers?

“I’m getting pretty old,” she said in the interview published Thursday. “Will I be at the top of my game?”

Biles proved the last two years — after a year off — that she can win — and comfortably — while not at her best. She grabbed the 2018 World all-around title by a record margin — with two falls. Last year, she became the most decorated gymnast in world championships history. In Tokyo, she can become the first woman to repeat as Olympic all-around champion, and the only one older than 20, in more than 50 years.

This for a gymnast whose early goal was to earn a college scholarship. Biles did, to UCLA, but had to give it up by turning professional.

“So I’ve exceeded that,” Biles said. “And then I wanted to go to world championships and Olympics, and I’ve been to five worlds and one Olympic Games. So, I’d be more than happy [to walk away].”

After gymnastics, Biles has another goal — to be a voice for foster kids. She was in foster care multiple times before being adopted at age 6 by grandparents Ron and Nellie.

Those plans, along with so much else for Biles and so many others, have been pushed back a full year.

“I was already being mentally drained and almost, not done with the sport, but just going into the gym and feeling tired and being like, OK, I’m going to get my stuff [done], get out,” she said. “We have this one end goal, and now that it’s postponed another [year], it’s just like, how are we going to deal with that? We’re already being drained, and so it’s to keep the fire in the sport within yourself alive.”

MORE: Top U.S. gymnasts disagree with Tokyo Olympic age rule

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 Pan Pacific Championships canceled as swimming calendar shifts

Getty Images
Leave a comment

The Pan Pacific Swimming Championships, a quadrennial major international meet, will not be held in 2022 “out of respect for the recent changes to the international sporting calendar,” according to a press release.

The Pan Pacs’ charter nations — the U.S., Australia, Canada and Japan — agreed to the move. The 2026 event will be held in Canada, which was supposed to be the 2022 host.

The decision came after the 2021 World Championships were moved to May 2022, following the Tokyo Olympics moving from 2020 to 2021 due to the coronavirus pandemic. The quadrennial multi-sport Commonwealth Games — which includes Australia and Canada, but not the U.S. or Japan — are scheduled for July 27-Aug. 7, 2022.

“Organizing a third major championships in that window presented several challenges,” according to the Pan Pacs release.

Pan Pacs mark the third-biggest major international meet for U.S. swimmers, held in non-Olympic, non-world championships years.

MORE: Caeleb Dressel co-hosts a podcast. It’s not about swimming.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!