Getty Images

Nathan Chen sees ‘pretty high chance’ of Olympic gold

Leave a comment

This time last year, Nathan Chen was just starting to realize he could make the Olympic team.

Now, the 18-year-old believes a gold medal is not just possible, but probable if he stays on track the next three-plus months.

Last season, Chen came back from major injury to become the youngest U.S. champion since 1966 and the first man to land five quadruple jumps in one program.

He beat reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu at the PyeongChang Olympic venue.

Though Chen was later sixth at the world championships, he chalked that up to faulty boots that required duct tape.

Sure enough, Chen opened this season in earnest by beating Hanyu again at the first event of the fall Grand Prix season.

In 2010, a 10-year-old Chen, dressed like a toy soldier, predicted on national TV that he would be at the Olympics in eight years.

That’s just part of the story of the youngest of five children to parents who emigrated from Beijing. Chen began skating at age 3 on a 2002 Olympic practice rink in Salt Lake City.

The Olympic reality is near.

Brands have noticed. Since the start of April, Chen signed with Coca-Cola, Nike, Bridgestone and Kellogg’s (plus another major company expected to be announced this week).

Chen sat down for an interview Monday while promoting Kellogg’s, which is putting him on Corn Flakes boxes.

OlympicTalk: What were you thinking when this happened last week?

Chen: First of all, I had no idea what was happening, actually, because I hadn’t realized I had won [his fall Grand Prix season opener in Russia]. Second, Raf [coach] Rafael Arutunian was like super, extra making a big deal. I was excited about that moment, but I wanted to keep it inside me. That’s who I am. When Raf, like, freaked out, I was like, oh God. It is a funny moment. I’m glad Raf was very happy about it.

OlympicTalk: Has Raf ever been that excited after a program?

Chen: No, not really. I think he was really excited I had a win in my first [Grand Prix] competition of the season. Plus, it was in Russia. He has a lot of attachments there [born in the former Soviet Republic of Georgia, coached in Armenia and Moscow].

OlympicTalk: Did you want to compete against Hanyu in the first Grand Prix?

Chen: Honestly, at that point, I had no choice [in determining if he was in the same Grand Prix with Hanyu]. In a way, no, not necessarily, just because it’s a big thing right at the start of the season. There’s definitely a lot of improvement that both of us can do. It kind of depends on how we took our offseason. But, at the same time, you have the opportunity to compete against someone who will be one of the top contenders. To see how you place against them early in the season gives you a good benchmark of where you are. That was a nice opportunity. To see that I could be on top that early in the season is very reassuring.

OlympicTalk: Where do you want your technical content, your jumps, to be come nationals, come the Olympics, in your free skate specifically?

Chen: I kind of set the benchmark for five quads, but at the same time I’ve been held back a bit in GOEs [lower-than-hoped grade-of-execution scores from judges marking the quality of his jumps]. That’s something that I can improve on a lot. That’s kind of where my mind is set — quality instead of quantity. Especially since at worlds, [quantity] didn’t really play out for me [trying six quads in the free skate with duct-taped boots and falling twice].

Heading into the Olympics, I’ll definitely focus a little bit more on quality of the jumps and all of the performance and all that just tying together for a more full-packaged skate. But, at the same time, five quads is still a lot of quads. It’s still a challenge.

OlympicTalk: If I had asked you a year ago, what are your chances of winning an Olympic gold medal, what would you have said?

Chen: Probably next to none, honestly. Even making the Olympic team would be a stretch if you asked me that a year and a half ago. Especially since I hadn’t gotten [quad] flip and [quad] Lutz, and all of these guys were already doing flip. I had no experience in senior. A lot has progressed.

OlympicTalk: Today, what are your chances of winning an Olympic gold medal?

Chen: I know for sure that I’m top five right now, at least top six. I think that, on any given day, we could all be standing on top of that podium. I think I have a pretty high chance of winning as long as I stick to my plan, stay healthy and focus on all the little details.

OlympicTalk: Do you want your programs at nationals in January to be exactly as they are for the Olympics in February, or will you still be ramping up?

Chen: It’s hard to say at this moment, just because I don’t know exactly how I will feel around nationals time. But nationals is definitely a good time to do a test run before the Games. It’ll be pretty close to the Games. There won’t be high stress.

OlympicTalk: You met Elvis Stojko recently.

Chen: The meeting was super, super brief. I wasn’t expecting that. I was training with [choreographer] Lori [Nichol in Toronto] right after Russia. I was sitting in the locker room. He popped in. I was like, oh wait, that’s Elvis. That’s cool.

OlympicTalk: Do you look at your sixth-place finish at worlds in April as more a product of the boot problems or being fatigued at the end of your first senior international season?

Chen: It’s largely about the boots. I wasn’t able to get the training time and the intensity that I needed heading to worlds. There’s only so much that I can rely on from the past few months of training.

I don’t think that [fatigue] really was much of a big deal. Also, the Games are in February, and I know that last February I was strong.

OlympicTalk: How long do you want to compete?

Chen: This is just the start of my career. I just became one of the medal contenders in seniors. To just pull off after this season, I haven’t been able to accomplish enough. I think that I would still love to continue for another four [years].

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

MORE: Will Virtue, Moir bid farewell at Olympics?

10 takeaways from the U.S. Figure Skating Championships

Leave a comment

GREENSBORO, N.C. — Here, the NBC Sports figure skating contributors reflect on the standout moments of the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships. Nathan Chen and Alysa Liu of course come to mind, though there were plenty of other moments to remark upon along the way. 

Women

1. Alysa Liu proved that she could do it again. She validated her insistence that there was no more pressure in successfully defending a title compared to winning her first title. 

Plus, the amusement of seeing the 4-foot-10 14-year-old needing help ascending the top step of the awards podium doesn’t get old either. Mariah Bell and Bradie Tennell helped hoist her for the second year in a row. Liu next competes at world juniors, where she will take on a formidable pair of Russian “K’s”: Kamila Valieva and Ksenia Sinitsyna, both of whom outscored her on the Junior Grand Prix circuit. To win the crown, Liu may need a fully rotated quadruple Lutz, something that eluded her in Greensboro.

2. Speaking of Bell, she comes out of the championships with her already-improving confidence another notch higher after the free skate of her life and her best nationals finish ever, a silver medal. In tears before she even hit her final pose, she deservedly got an overwhelming standing ovation.

When asked how she felt about being the No. 1 senior U.S. woman, she said, “It’s a very special feeling. I haven’t had that before in my career, so that was awesome. The coolest thing about it was how into it the crowd was.” 

Now, let the calculations begin: can Bell and Tennell gain three U.S. women’s spots for next season’s world championships? To do so, the sum of their placements at the 2020 World Figure Skating Championships cannot be greater than 13 (for example, sixth and seventh).

3. Rounding out the memorable moments of the women’s event were the returns of Olympians Karen Chen and Gracie Gold. Chen, the 2017 national champion, missed the entirety of last season with a right foot stress fracture, and now is a freshman at Cornell. She finished fourth, and gained an assignment at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships early next month. With her competitive juices flowing again, Chen told reporters she was considering taking a gap year from college.

Two-time U.S. champion Gold, of course, triumphed simply by qualifying for her first national championships since 2017 after time away from the sport for treatment for depression, anxiety and an eating disorder. After a mediocre short program, Gold did a respectable free skate, and the crowd gave her a standing ovation, an emotional reward that left her with grateful tears. It moved Gold, who finished 12th, to vow she would continue her comeback for at least another season.

Men

4. Nathan Chen’s fourth straight U.S. title puts him in the company of five men since World War II, all of whom won Olympic gold medals, with Brian Boitano (85-88) the most recent. Chen, a Yale sophomore, was the first to do it in the IJS and quadruple jump eras (he went six-for-six in quads in the two programs), and the fourth came after a case of the flu bad enough he could practice only intermittently the first two weeks of January. “I don’t know anybody who could recover and do what he did after that sickness,” coach Rafael Arutunian said of Chen.

5. Tomoki Hiwatashi’s continued improvement: two clean programs with three clean quads for the bronze medal. His showmanship, including Russian split jumps, are to die for. Last season, Hiwatashi finished a surprise fourth at nationals but had disappointing 10th and fifth places in his debut competitions on the senior Grand Prix debut. The 2019 world junior champion has put himself into the mix for a 2022 Olympic team spot — if he can improve his consistency. 

6. Except for that pesky quad, Jason Brown put it all together at nationals for the first time since 2014. If he can execute all the elements as brilliantly as he did in Greensboro, a clean quad might put him in bronze medal contention at the 2020 World Championships, given the consistent inconsistency of all the top men after Chen and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

7. In the past month, Vincent Zhou turned his life inside out, taking a leave from Brown University to focus on skating after completing the first semester of his freshman year and switching coaches to Lee Barkell and Lori Nichol in Toronto. Despite that upheaval and little intense training, the reigning world bronze medalist and 2019 U.S. silver medalist had two solid performances to finish fourth, strategically limiting his quads to one in each program. Although Zhou had skipped the Grand Prix season, his choice as a world team member over Hiwatashi was totally justified under the selection criteria in use.

Ice dance

8. Madison Chock and Evan Bates made ice dance — and figure skating — history when they became the first U.S. skater, couple or pair team to go five years between national titles since the 1920s. They topped two duos they train with, Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue, and Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, to win their first title since 2015, also won in Greensboro. Their widely acclaimed slithering “Snake Charmer” free dance likely sets them up to glide to the world championship podium, but another showdown with Hubbell and Donohue awaits at Four Continents.

Pairs

9. Jessica Calalang and Brian Johnson had a breakthrough moment in the pairs’ event with one of the most memorable free skates in the last 20 years. Calalang’s joyous disbelief was palpable when she and Johnson got their score (146.01, the highest ever at nationals) for a program that had the crowd out of its seats before it even ended

“In my head, I’m like, ‘We got 119 at Skate Canada. We got 120-something at Warsaw.’ So, I was like, ‘Okay, we did both jumps… maybe 130,” she said, recalling her mental play-by-play. “Then it’s 140. Ohmigod, I’ve never dreamed of getting this score. I didn’t think it was possible.” 

Added Johnson: “No one can take that moment away from us.” 

Especially poignant words as Calalang and Johnson were passed over in favor of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc for the world championships teams. Calalang and Johnson are slated to participate at Four Continents, where they can continue to build a body of work that will impress U.S. Figure Skating’s International Selection Committee next time around.

10. Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim won their third U.S. pair title in Greensboro, joining such company as John Zimmerman and Kyoko Ina, Jenni Meno and Todd Sand, and Jill Watson and Peter Oppegard. The couple skated a clean and memorable short program to “At Last,” including side-by-side triple toe loops. In the free skate, though, Knierim fell on his triple toe and the skaters doubled their planned triple Salchows. Despite their superior triple twist and lifts, in order to crack the top five in the world, Scimeca Knierim and Knierim need to get consistent on their jumps, and the California-based skaters are working with Arutunian to do so.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

U.S. FIGURE SKATING CHAMPIONSHIPS: Full Results | Women’s | Ice dance | Pairs | Men’s | Worlds roster

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

China’s first Winter X Games postponed due to coronavirus

Getty Images
Leave a comment

A Winter X Games competition due to be held in Chongli, China, next month has been postponed due to the outbreak of the coronavirus in China.

“Due to the ongoing coronavirus concerns, the X Games Chongli 2020 event will be postponed until a later date,” organizers announced via Twitter. “The safety of our athletes, staff and spectators is our top priority, and we will continue to closely monitor the situation.”

The competition would have been the first Winter X Games held in China. Shanghai has hosted many X Games in the summer, including a event last June.

As with an Alpine skiing World Cup event that was canceled Wednesday, the X Games were due to take place at a 2022 Olympic venue, Chongli’s Secret Garden ski report. The venue hosted a World Cup snowboard event in December.

READ: First Alpine World Cup in China canceled

Several of the most decorated X Games and Olympic athletes, including two-time Olympic snowboard slopestyle champion Jamie Anderson, were scheduled to compete in China.

The coronavirus outbreak has also affected qualifiers for the 2020 Olympics, with boxing and women’s soccer tournaments moved from Wuhan, the epicenter of the outbreak. Asia-Oceania boxing qualifiers will be held March 3-11 in Amman, Jordan, with coverage on the Olympic Channel. The women’s soccer qualifiers, including traditional power China and a strong Australian team, were originally moved to Nanjing but then moved to Sydney, Australia.

China’s team has arrived in Australia but is under quarantine, putting the start of the qualifiers in doubt.

Aspen hosted the biggest X Games competition of the winter last week. Another X Games is scheduled for March 7-8 in Norway.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!