Nathan Chen
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Nathan Chen no longer grasping for gold going into world champs

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Nathan Chen is arguably a bigger favorite at this week’s world championships than going into the Olympics, but Chen learned from his frightening PyeongChang experience not to think in those terms.

“I don’t want to dwell so much on medals like I did at the Games,” Chen said last week. “That was one of the biggest things that sort of screwed me up at the Olympics. … I was so hell-bent on that, on really the gold. It ended up just making me scared. It made me really nervous and didn’t give me the confidence I needed.”

Chen arrived in PyeongChang last month undefeated for the season. His first two skates in South Korea resulted in the two worst short program scores of his senior international career.

The 18-year-old nailed his last performance, a personal-best free skate as the first man to land five clean quadruple jumps at an Olympics. The highest program score in the field by nearly nine points. Chen moved from 17th place to fifth, confirming his place among the sport’s big-stage performers.

Then two of those icons — Olympic gold and bronze medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez — withdrew from this week’s world championships in Milan.

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“Honestly, I was a little disappointed that Yuzu pulled [out of worlds],” Chen said (Hanyu cited a right ankle injury that kept him out of competition from November until the Olympics). “Obviously, he needs to get healthy. I don’t know what his future entails, but I wanted to have him there. It really ups the ante of the competition. Everyone definitely feels his presence and Javi’s presence.”

Chen spent the last week of the Olympics in Seoul with family members. He said he took maybe one day off from training after flying home to Southern California.

His coolest post-Olympic experience: attending NBA games, such as Cavaliers-Clippers with a backstage pass to watch players exit. And being shown on the jumbotron.

What Chen has not done in the last month is watch full video of his Olympic performances. Just jump compilations from his free skate. Nothing from either of the short programs.

“But I know exactly what it felt like,” he said. “I don’t really want to go back and review it since I know within myself what it felt like, but, again, if I find the need to some day go back and remember it, I think it’s a good resource.”

Chen is expected to challenge Japan’s Shoma Uno (Olympic silver medalist) and China’s Jin Boyang (2016 and 2017 World bronze medalist) for the world title.

Chen said last week that he plans two quads in his short program (Lutz and flip) and, depending on how the short goes, five in his free skate (six, which he attempted at the Olympics with one messy landing, “is pushing it a little bit.”).

Chen faces a decision after worlds. He applied to “six or seven” colleges — mostly California schools, but two on the East Coast — and, as of last week, had not heard back from any.

He plans to continue competing next season under Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutyunyan regardless of which school he chooses.

“Applications were mostly just for the purpose of trying to get into the colleges,” he said. “Once I hear back from them, I’ll figure out logistics and see how I’ll balance them both [school and skating].”

No American has won a world title since ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White in 2013, marking the nation’s longest drought in 42 years. Chen can end it. What an end it would be to his season as well.

“It would be incredible,” Chen said, “but I still have a lot of worlds ahead of me.”

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MORE: Best figure skating moments from PyeongChang

40 years ago today: Jimmy Carter lays plan for Olympic boycott

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On Jan. 20, 1980, U.S. President Jimmy Carter said he would not support sending a U.S. team to the Moscow Olympics later that summer if the Soviet Union did not withdraw troops from Afghanistan.

Carter detailed his stance on NBC’s “Meet the Press” airing that Sunday. A transcript:

Bill Monroe: Assuming the Soviets do not pull out of Afghanistan any time soon, do you favor the U.S. participating in the Moscow Olympics, and if not, what are the alternatives?

Carter: No. Neither I nor the American people would support the sending of an American team to Moscow with Soviet invasion troops in Afghanistan. I’ve sent a message today to the United States Olympic Committee spelling out my own position that unless the Soviets withdraw their troops within a month from Afghanistan that the Olympic Games be moved from Moscow to alternate site or multiple sites or postponed or canceled. If the Soviets do not withdraw their troops immediately from Afghanistan — within a month — I would not support the sending of an American team to the Olympics. It’s very important for the world to realize how serious a threat the Soviets’ invasion of Afghanistan is. I do not want to inject politics into the Olympics, and I would personally favor the establishment of a permanent Olympic site for both the Summer and the Winter Games. In my opinion, the most appropriate permanent site for the Summer Games would be Greece. This will be my own position, and I have asked the U.S. Olympic Committee to take this position to the International Olympic Committee, and I would hope that as many nations as possible would support this basic position. One hundred and four nations voted against the Soviet invasion and called for their immediate withdrawal from Afghanistan in the United Nations, and I would hope as many of those as possible would support the position I’ve just outlined to you.

Monroe: Mr. President, if a substantial number of nations does not support the U.S. position, would not that just put the U.S. in an isolated position without doing much damage to the Soviet Union?

Carter: Regardless of what other nations might do, I would not favor the sending of an American Olympic team to Moscow while the Soviet invasion troops are in Afghanistan.

Three days later, Carter said in his State of the Union address, “I have notified the Olympic Committee that with Soviet invading forces in Afghanistan, neither the American people nor I will support sending an Olympic team to Moscow.”

The Soviets did not withdraw troops.

Though Carter did not have the authority to order a boycott, the U.S. Olympic Committee did decide on April 12 not to send a team.

The U.S. was among more than 60 nations that were invited to the Moscow Games and did not participate (for various reasons). Other notable absences included Canada, West Germany, Japan and China.

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MORE: Japanese athlete’s bid to become oldest Olympian in history still alive

With four former champions in the mix, who can claim U.S. Championships pairs’ title?

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There have been four different U.S. pairs’ champions in the past four years. All four of those teams are in the field at this week’s U.S. Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina. With that in mind, who could get the nod to compete at the world championships in March?

The U.S. has two spots to fill, thanks to the efforts of Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, who finished ninth at last year’s worlds.

Haven Denney and Brandon Frazier had the best fall of any U.S. pair, winning two bronze medals on the Grand Prix Series. Denney and Frazier finished with silver medals at last year’s national championships, too. The team has previous experience at the world championships (2015: 12th; 2017: 20th).

Cain-Gribble and LeDuc won the national title last year after a season that was nearly sidelined by Cain-Gribble’s concussion in December 2018. As the solo U.S. representatives at the world championships, they succeeded in earning back two world berths for 2020.

This season, they won two B-level competitions and finished fourth and fifth at their Grand Prix assignments. LeDuc said last week that despite their win at Golden Spin in December, “there was a little bit of room for improvement, which is exactly what we want from a competition going into nationals.”

“We feel like we’ve improved a lot as far as what we’re able to take on mentally because we know that this is going to be an intense week,” Cain-Gribble said. “We’re prepared for that. We’ve never had to do this before, where we’re coming in and we’re already the reigning champions. We’ve never come in with that title before. We’ve had the opportunity to talk to a lot of people about it and what that feeling is, but overall their main thing was, ‘Be prepared. Prepare yourself beyond what you can even imagine. When you get there, just go on autopilot and do your thing.’”

PyeongChang Olympic team event bronze medalists Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim haven’t been in top form since the Games. Later in 2018, they split from short-lived coach Aljona Savchenko in Germany and moved to California.

They finished an all-time low of seventh at last year’s nationals and were not assigned to any events later in the season. In their off-season, Chris underwent wrist surgery. The couple also added Rafael Arutunian to their coaching team to address their jumping abilities. Their season consisted of a silver medal at a B-level competition, followed by two Grand Prix assignments where they finished fourth and seventh.

“We feel that many people probably have kind of written us off, because we’re an old married couple and we’re kind of labeled ‘can’t get it together,’” Scimeca Knierim said after finishing fourth at Skate Canada this fall. “That’s almost an advantage, because I feel like for so long, we were considered the front-runners. I still believe we are. We’re trying to show we can get it together.”

The last time the Knierims competed at a nationals in Greensboro, in 2015, they won the first of their two titles. That year, they notched their highest placement (seventh) across five total trips to the world championships.

Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea won their national title in 2016 and were also sent on their only trip to the world championships where they finished 13th. In 2017, Kayne underwent knee surgery, but they returned to the national podium in 2018 and won silver. Last year, they finished fourth after a disastrous free skate.

This season, they collected a silver medals and a fourth place finish at two B-level competitions as well as a pair of sixth-place finishes on the Grand Prix.

MORE: 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships TV, live stream schedule

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.

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