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After turning life upside down, Nathan Chen landing on his feet

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DETROIT – For the first two seasons after Nathan Chen moved up to the senior level of international skating competition, Chen’s life revolved around his commitments to the sport.

Chen’s high school studies were done through correspondence courses, allowing him to have a schedule that prioritized his time practicing at a southern California rink with coach Rafael Arutunian. He became an immediate success internationally, and in the second senior season, he won a world title, a Grand Prix title, finished fifth in the Olympics and dazzled the world with his quadruple jump exploits.

And he also was a runaway winner in the 2017 and 2018 U.S. Championships.

At 19, Chen was ready for new academic challenges.

But he still wanted to do more in skating, a sport with time and travel demands that few elite competitors have succeeded in combining with a full course load at college.

For Chen, that meant turning his life inside out.

MORE: Chen commits to Yale

He enrolled in August at Yale, moving 3,000 miles from Arutunian, allowing coach and skater to interact directly about technical skating issues only occasionally via FaceTime. That has frustrated Arutunian, who would prefer to see Chen every day.

And some in the skating world would make a headlong rush to judgment about Chen’s ability to pull this off after he had a badly flawed performance in his first competition of season, at the free skate-only Japan Open in early October.

Since then, Chen has won Skate America, won the Grand Prix France, won the Grand Prix Final and, Saturday, delivered an exceptional short program to take a 13-point lead over Jason Brown and Vincent Zhou going into Sunday’s free skate at the U.S. Championships.

“Overall, everything is playing off exactly as I had hoped it would,” said Chen.

But that makes it sound as if there haven’t been moments when Chen wondered if that would happen, especially because his skating in the “regular season” Grand Prix competitions, while good enough to win, was not at the level it had been.

“I managed my best possible, but I didn’t skate as well as I wanted to,” Chen said.

Discouraging?

“Of course,” Chen said. “There were times when I was really struggling with them both, and I wasn’t sure how I was going to handle the two.”

He began to have serious doubts before Skate America, which involved a coast-to-coast-and-back trip just before his first Yale midterms. He knew that a flop at Skate America would likely keep him from qualifying for the Grand Prix Final.

“I felt there was a lot of pressure there,” he said. “I just took that for the good I could get out of it. I try to focus on using that to develop myself as a skater and a person.”

He was mixing quad Lutzes and courses in calculus, chemistry, Spanish and English. He had to schedule his own ice time, both at Yale’s on-campus Ingalls Rink, where he skates by himself for 60-to-90 minutes from Monday through Friday, and another rink nearby. He had to keep professors apprised of when he would be absent for competitions, which has been the case this week.

“Professors have been okay with it, and they have been accommodating with quizzes and assignments,” Chen said.

Chen said his first semester grades included “some A’s and Bs.” In the second semester, which began 12 days ago, he is taking two courses in quantitative reasoning, math and statistics, and two more courses “TBD” – to be determined.

He would apologize for using “TBD” to answer several questions, including how long he would stay at Yale before likely taking a break to focus on preparations for the 2022 Olympics. At this point, he intends to continue for at least one more year.

“I’m really loving being in the college atmosphere, being able to have something to do outside of the rink, being able to focus on things that are, in my opinion, equally as important as the time that I spend on the ice,” he said.

“Whereas in California, it’s everything just structured around skating, so if you have a bad day, that kind of carries on throughout the rest of the day. But here [Yale], you have the opportunity, if you have a bad day on the ice, you can have a good day outside of the rink. I think that mood change carries over for the next day.”

One of the concessions Chen made to his demanding schedule was initially to minimize, in terms relative only to himself, the number of quads he would do in competition. The man who had been credited with a historic six quads in the 2018 Olympic and world championship free skates, landing five cleanly each time, is satisfied with trying four in Sunday’s free skate.

(A change in the scoring system this season also made it less worthwhile to risk as many quads, on which failures now are penalized more severely.)

Chen did two quads, as usual, in Saturday’s short program to a version of the jazz classic, “Caravan.” His quad flip and quad toe, triple toe combination both came off magnificently, the latter earning eight maximum (+5) Grades of Execution and one +4. Once the jumps were out of the way, he began playing to the crowd.

The judges, clearly carried away by his enthusiasm and the crowd’s appreciation, went over the top with their marks, giving him 16 perfect component scores (10.0). Such largesse is common at national championships around the world, with judges feeling gigantic scores will eventually sway the minds of those who evaluate the skaters at ensuing world championships and Olympics.

Or maybe they were just giving Chen extra credit for making the grade so far in both the rink and at one of the world’s leading universities.

MORE: Jason Brown planning quad in Sunday’s free skate

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships 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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Breanna Stewart to miss entire WNBA season with Achilles injury

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Breanna Stewart, the world’s top female basketball player and one of the most dominant athletes of 2018, is expected to miss the entire upcoming WNBA season after rupturing an Achilles playing in Europe on Sunday, according to the Seattle Storm.

“The situation is still a shock to me,” was posted on Stewart’s social media. “I’m feeling every emotion possible at this point but just know that the bounce back will be real and I’ll be back better than ever.”

Stewart, 24, skyrocketed in this Olympic cycle.

The Storm’s franchise player went from playing the second-fewest minutes on the 2016 Olympic team as its youngest player to leading the U.S. per game in points (16.3) and minutes (27) at the 2018 World Championship tournament.

Stewart earned MVP honors at worlds, matching her WNBA season and Finals honors. She became the first player to earn all three MVPs in one year.

Stewart is still expected to be in play for the 2020 Olympic team, given the Storm expect her to make a full recovery by the start of the following WNBA season next spring.

Tamika Catchings made the 2008 Olympic team after tearing her right Achilles in September 2007.

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Caster Semenya leads Olympians in Time 100; streak hits 16 years

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An Olympian has made the Time 100 Most Influential list every year since its annual inception in 2004. South African runner Caster Semenya, soccer players Alex Morgan and Mo Salah and LeBron James kept the streak going in 2019.

It’s the fourth appearance for James (2005, 2013, 2017), extending his record for an athlete, and the first for Semenya, Morgan and Salah. Semenya made it in the “icons” category, while the other three are “titans.”

Two-time Olympic 400m hurdles champion Edwin Moses penned an essay about the two-time Olympic 800m champion Semenya, who is fighting a legal battle with the IAAF over a potential rule change limiting women’s testosterone levels in her events. If the rule goes into effect, Semenya’s dominance (three years undefeated at 800m) is expected to vanish.

“Caster Semenya has taught us that sex isn’t always binary, and caused us to question the justness of distributing societal benefits according to “male” and “female” classifications,” Moses wrote. “Ultimately, this incredibly difficult issue is a political one for sport to resolve. But however it is addressed, Semenya will have already made a singular historical contribution to our understanding of biological sex.”

Here are Olympians and Paralympians on past Time 100 lists, counting only athletes who competed in the Games before being listed:

2018 — Kevin Durant, Roger Federer, Chloe Kim, Adam Rippon
2017 — Simone Biles, LeBron James, Neymar
2016 — Usain BoltCaitlyn JennerKatie LedeckySania MirzaRonda Rousey
2015 — Abby Wambach
2014 — Cristiano Ronaldo, Serena Williams
2013 — LeBron James, Li Na, Lindsey Vonn
2012 — Novak DjokovicLionel MessiOscar Pistorius
2011 — Lionel Messi
2010 — Yuna KimSerena Williams
2009 — Rafael Nadal
2008 — Andre Agassi, Lance Armstrong, Oscar Pistorius
2007 — Roger FedererChien Ming-Wang
2006 — Joey CheekSteve Nash
2005 — LeBron James
2004 — Lance Armstrong, Paula Radcliffe, Yao Ming
2000 (20th Century) — Muhammad Ali

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