Nathan Chen no longer grasping for gold going into world champs

Nathan Chen
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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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