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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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The Wrap from Day 1 of the World Championships

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NUR-SULTAN, Kazakhstan — Matt Lindland sees progress taking place within the United States Greco-Roman program.

He sees accountability and ownership. He sees a desire to compete with the global Greco powers and a willingness to pay the price to get there.

“There’s definitely been progress,” Lindland said. “We’ve got great guys. It’s about them. They want to be here. They want to do what it’s going to take to get to that next level, and you can see it. They’re frustrated when things don’t go their way, and they’re going to figure out how to fix those things. Yeah, we’re making the right progress. We’ve got the right guys, we’ve got the right attitude.”

But Lindland also sees hesitation at times, too. He sees too much analyzing and not enough reactionary aggression.

“I think our guys are second-guessing themselves, they’re questioning and they’re thinking,” he said. “They’re thinking about what’s going to happen instead of being in the moment and just being present and letting things fly. Really great athletes out there on America’s team and they’re super capable. When they start thinking and questioning what’s going to happen and wondering what the referee is going to call, they’ve just got to go out there and do what they’re all capable of doing.”

Both dynamics — the signs progress and the work-in-progress symbols — were on display Saturday on the opening day of the World Championships.

Max Nowry, Ryan Mango and Raymond Bunker notched opening-round wins Saturday. For perspective, only three Americans posted Greco victories at the World Championships in 2018.

On the flip side, though, each of the three ran into roadblocks when they couldn’t hold leads in their second bout, and Mango and Bunker got eliminated later in the day.

Nowry and John Stefanowicz, however, got pulled into the repechage and have a chance to wrestle Sunday for medals. Nowry got an extra opportunity when Kazakhstan’s Khorlan Zhakansha stunned 2018 World champ and No. 1 seed Eldaniz Azizli of Azerbaijan, 11-5, in the 55-kilogram semifinals.

Stefanowicz dropped a 7-0 decision in the Round of 16 at 82 kilograms against Georgia’s Lasha Gobadze. But the Georgian posted two more victories to set Stefanowicz up with another chance at a medal.

Read the rest of the article at Track Wrestling

Sky Brown, 11 years old, is third at world skateboarding championships ahead of Olympic debut

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Sky Brown, an 11-year-old who appears en route to becoming the youngest female Summer Olympian in 50 years, took third at the world skateboarding championships in Sao Paulo on Saturday. The sport debuts at the Olympics in Tokyo.

Brown posted her highest score of her four finals runs in the last round, 58.13 points, of the park event. It was not enough to overtake Japanese Misugu Okamoto and Sakura Yosozumi. The new world champion Okamoto is 13 years old. Yosozumi is 17.

Brown has been raised in Japan by a Japanese mother and a British father. The 2018 Dancing with the Stars: Juniors winner appeared in a Nike “Dream Crazier” ad with Simone BilesSerena Williams and Chloe Kim in February.

She has not clinched an Olympic spot yet but is well on her way as the qualifying season continues.

She turns 12 years old just before the Tokyo Olympics begin and would be the youngest Olympian since Romanian rowing coxswain Carlos Front at the 1992 Barcelona Games.

She would be the youngest female Olympian since Chinese ice dancer Liu Luyang in 1988 and the youngest female Summer Olympian since Puerto Rican swimmer Liana Vicens in 1968, according to the OlyMADMen.

The Tokyo Games feature four skateboarding events — men’s and women’s street and park.

NBC Olympic Research contributed to this report.

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