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Nathan Chen sees ‘pretty high chance’ of Olympic gold

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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].

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Dominik Paris, world champion skier, suffers season-ending injury

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Italian Dominik Paris, the reigning world champion in the super-G, suffered a season-ending ACL tear in a training crash Tuesday ahead of this weekend’s speed races in Kitzbuehel, Austria.

Paris crashed in super-G training not far from the hallowed World Cup venue, slipping into a curve and damaging his right knee. He also suffered a fibula microfracture, according to the Italian federation.

“My season ends here,” he said, according to the International Ski Federation (FIS). “Unfortunately while I was sliding, the inside ski caught too much and the ligament broke. There is not much to add. In the next few days we will evaluate, together with the medical staff, how to proceed.”

Paris won his third Hahnenkamm downhill title last year and was one of the favorites for Saturday’s downhill, the most prestigious annual race in the sport. NBC Sports Gold streams live coverage for “Snow Pass” subscribers at 5:30 a.m. ET.

Paris, 30, won a pair of downhills in Bormio in December among five total podiums this season.

In his absence, Swiss Beat Feuz and German Thomas Dressen lead the podium contenders.

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It’s Nathan Chen’s time at nationals for a feat 32 years in the making

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Nathan Chen can join Brian Boitano in U.S. figure skating history this week, a decade after holding Boitano in the palm of his hands with a program set to music from “Kung Fu Panda.”

Chen seeks a fourth straight national title in Greensboro, N.C. He would be the seventh man to do so since World War II. Five of the previous six won Olympic titles — Dick Button, Hayes Jenkins, David Jenkins, Scott Hamilton and, most recently, Brian Boitano from 1985-88.

Boitano remembered the first time he met Chen. He and Kristi Yamaguchi were compelled to leave their seats to find the teeny, tiny wunderkind who performed that program to the 2008 DreamWorks film.

“He was taking off his skates, and he probably came up to our waist,” Boitano said. “We knew when we saw him back then that he was going to be something special. He was really quiet. He’s still very quiet.”

In an interview last week, Chen focused on the present — coming back from a two-week cold or flu bug — rather than the perspective.

“I don’t like to typically think about that,” Chen said when asked about his streak. “It’s just different [from year to year]. It’s not really necessarily easier or harder.”

It is also different from previous eras. The last five men to win four in a row did it all in one Olympic cycle, then stepped away from competition after the Winter Games. That was back when turning professional meant the end of an Olympic career.

“It was kind of the norm back then,” Hamilton said. “After that it was kind of back and forth a lot [until Chen]. The business of skating changed so skaters could stay in a lot more, a lot longer. With all the money they brought in, they were able to prevent skaters from turning professional. So that brought in a different approach to nationals.”

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Both Hamilton and six-time (non-consecutive) U.S. champion Todd Eldredge could think of just one name to compare Chen’s dominance in the history of U.S. men’s skating: Button, who won the first seven national titles after World War II, plus two Olympic golds.

Button earned national and world titles as a Harvard student. Chen is on a two-season win streak while majoring in statistics and data science at Yale. Button was the first skater to land a double Axel and a triple jump of any kind. Chen was the first to land six quads in one free skate.

Eldredge coaches skaters at the same rink where Chen trains when Chen visits his Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutunian. He is awed by watching Chen working out. Though Eldredge owns more national titles, he never felt the massive favorite status that accompanies Chen.

Eldredge competed in the post-Hamilton/Boitano era, when national champions began competing over multiple Olympic cycles. Eldredge ebbed and flowed from his first national title in 1990, when compulsory figures were still around, to 2002, when he defeated Timothy Goebel, then known as the Quad King.

“Physically, the demands of the sport take their toll on your body,” Eldredge said. “It’s hard to maintain that same level for that length of period of time.

“[In] 12 years [since Chen’s first national title], when he’s 29 years old, is he going to be able to continue to sustain that?”

All of the recent top U.S. men competed in multiple Olympic cycles. The last multiple national champion was Jeremy Abbott, who earned two titles each in two different Olympic cycles. Abbott finished his career in a third Olympic cycle, placing fifth at the 2015 U.S. Championships. Abbott didn’t remember that Chen made his senior nationals debut that year, finishing eighth at age 15.

“For me, winning the third and the fourth [titles] were harder because I started thinking about winning,” Abbott said. “After the second one, I was heading into a new quad and I was two-time U.S. champion. Then my focus was, oh, I’m expected to win. So that was a harder mental game rather than just focusing on making an Olympic team. The expectation now that I’ve done this twice in a row, I’m expected to win again and again and again.”

Abbott and Chen came up in the era of the points-based judging system instituted in 2004.

“Now with the way the scoring system is very different [from the old 6.0], cumulative points, if you have a bad day as a national champion, that’s it. You can’t get the points,” Eldredge said. “[In previous eras], if a certain skater was, I’ll say politically supposed to be the champion, you got a higher score, and rightfully so in most cases.”

Chen has the benefit of going into competitions knowing the kind of advantage he has in base value points from his jumping arsenal. He won last year’s national title by 58 points. This international season, he is 80 points clear of the next-highest-ranked U.S. man, Jason Brown.

“I don’t think that the try-to-push technique is necessarily my goal here,” at nationals, Chen said. “Hopefully just to maintain my body, maintain my health and try to prepare myself for the second half of the season.”

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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.