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Nathan Chen, Yale student, swaps books for boots at Skate America

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Nathan Chen is nearly two months into a new, unique training situation — 3,000 miles from his coach while taking freshman classes at Yale. How has it been?

“Very difficult,” for Rafael Arutunian, his 61-year-old Southern California-based coach said. “I knew it would be difficult.”

Chen headlines this weekend’s Skate America, his first full competition since winning last season’s world title by the largest margin in history.

That came after the quadruple jump king placed 17th in the Olympic short program, then topped the free skate in PyeongChang (trying six quadruple jumps, landing five clean) for fifth place overall.

The U.S. champions in every discipline are in action at Skate America in Everett, Wash., to kick off the Grand Prix season.

Chen is the only Olympic or world medalist in the men’s field, making him a clear favorite even though Arutunian has only seen his star pupil in person for one weekend since he matriculated.

MORE: Skate America TV, stream schedule

“But I Skype, and he sends me some videos [of his training],” Arutunian said by phone Tuesday (the busy Chen has not done media interviews while focusing at Yale). “But I mean he decided to study, and I think we’ll figure out if something will not work well for him. Maybe he will change something, but for now we have what we have.

“You don’t feel like you can discuss longer than 10, five minutes, it’s difficult. We’ll see how he can handle that.”

Chen can ease into the season at Skate America and his second Grand Prix in France next month, both during breaks from classes.

He has almost another two months before he would face Olympic gold and silver medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno of Japan, potentially at December’s Grand Prix Final in a preview of March’s world championships in Saitama, Japan.

Chen actually returned to competition two weeks ago at the Japan Open, a free skate-only event treated by many more as an exhibition. Arutunian was there as Chen fell three times in one program for the first time in his senior career.

“Japan Open, it’s kind of show, but when it comes to competition, it’s different,” Arutunian said, adding that Chen told him he was dealing with a cold for two weeks going into Japan, but that he’s not sick anymore.

NBC Sports analysts Tara Lipinski (1998 Olympic champion) and Johnny Weir (two-time Olympian) could not recall any recent skaters near Chen’s level who attempted the elite university-skating double with long-distance coaching.

“I did go to a college for about a week and said, I couldn’t do it all,” Weir said. “I just knew my limits.”

As longtime Olympic reporter Phil Hersh noted, Paul Wylie studied at Harvard from 1986-91 and competed in the 1988 and 1992 Olympics (with a silver in Albertville), taking two semesters off and spending three summers in school. Chen consulted with Wylie before moving to New Haven.

Weir’s college try was at the beginning of his senior international career, before he won three national titles and made it to the 2006 and 2010 Olympics.

“To be on the opposite coast from his usual training home, in school and carrying a full course load, it seems like a lot to me,” Weir said. “However, Nathan Chen showed last season and in seasons prior that his technical abilities keep him at such a high level that there is room for him to give a little wiggle and to have a season where he’s just adjusting to having school and skating together and learn his system.”

Lipinski was not too concerned about the falls in Japan, noting Chen’s bounce back in PyeongChang.

“When you’re at a level and you’re a skater like Nathan, Nathan knows technically what he needs to do,” she said. “He’s not learning a variety of new jumps. He has that under his belt. It’s more so having the comfort of your coach, having someone there helping you when it comes to a new program, helping you set out your plan for the next four years, building your confidence. It may affect him in that way, not having that extra support he’s used to, that he’s had for so long, that has worked so well for him.”

As a reminder, you can watch the ISU Grand Prix Series live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. GO HERE 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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MORE: Gracie Gold details ‘mental health crisis,’ return to skating

World short-track speedskating championships will be moved, postponed or canceled

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The International Skating Union announced Tuesday that the world short-track speedskating championships will not proceed as scheduled because of the coronavirus outbreak.

Seoul’s Mokdong Ice Rink, where the competition was set to be held March 13-15, held the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships earlier this month but closed on Monday.

The ISU left open the possibility that the championships will be postponed or relocated, but the window to do so may close rapidly.

“Taking into account the uncertain world-wide development of the coronavirus, the limited and uncertain available time slots during the coming weeks and the logistical challenges of potential organizers and participating teams, a postponement and/or relocation of the Championships would be difficult to achieve,” the ISU said. “Nevertheless, a postponement and/or relocation of this Championships might be considered if the circumstances would allow so in due time.”

South Korea is one of short-track speedskating’s traditional powers. Last year, the country dominated the world championships in Sofia, Bulgaria, winning both relays and taking gold in all of the men’s individual races. South Korea also led the medal count on home ice in the 2018 Olympics.

The coronavirus outbreak has forced the cancellation of many events in China, where the illness was first found. The world indoor track and field championships were pushed back a whole year.

With the virus spreading to other regions, other countries’ sports schedules are being affected. Several soccer games are proceeding in empty stadiums in Italy and Iran.

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Daniel Romanchuk’s ascent to marathon stardom accelerated at University of Illinois

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The rise of Daniel Romanchuk has been one of the major stories of this Paralympic cycle. The wheelchair racer was eliminated in the first round of all five of his races in Rio.

But now, he’s the world’s best marathoner with a 6-foot-10 wingspan, a world-record holder on the track and already qualified for the Tokyo Games.

Romanchuk, born with spina bifida, was profiled by NBC Sports Chicago as part of a series of NBC Sports Regional Networks pieces published this week — marking 150 days until the Tokyo Olympics and six months until the Tokyo Paralympics.

NBC RSN Olympic and Paralympic Profiles
NBC Sports Bay Area

Abbey Weitzeil (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Boston
Margaret Bertasi (Rowing) — LINK
Abbey D’Agostino Cooper (Track and Field) — LINK

NBC Sports Chicago
Ryan Murphy (Swimming) — LINK

NBC Sports Northwest
Galen Rupp (Marathon) — LINK
Mariel Zagunis (Fencing) — LINK

NBC Sports Philadelphia
Vashti Cunningham (Track and Field) — LINK
Julie Ertz (Soccer) — LINK

NBC Sports Washington
Katie Ledecky (Swimming) — LINK
Kyle Snyder (Wrestling) — LINK

Romanchuk, 21, swept the Boston, London, Chicago and New York City Marathon titles in 2019. He attributes that success to his native Baltimore and his training residence of the University of Illinois.

At age 2, he was enrolled in Baltimore’s Bennett Blazers, an adaptive sports program for children with physical disabilities. Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time Paralympic medalist who dominated women’s wheelchair marathons, planted her athletic roots there.

“Their motto is to teach kids they can before they’re told they can’t,” Romanchuk said.

Things really blossomed for Romanchuk after he moved from Baltimore to the University of Illinois. Illinois was designated a U.S. Paralympic training site in 2014 and has produced McFadden, Jean Driscoll and other U.S. Paralympic stars.

“Without this program, I certainly would not be where I am,” Romanchuk said. “It’s a very unique combination of coaching and teammates.”

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MORE: Ten Paralympic hopefuls to watch for 2020 Tokyo Games