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Nathan Chen, student and skater, tries to have two parts in harmony again at world championships

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Nathan Chen has had little down time at Yale University since the beginning of his first-year classes in late summer.

The reigning figure skating world champion had embarked in August on a journey unlike almost any other in the history of the sport. Not only was he trying to blend both full-time college studies and competitive skating, as other champions had successfully done in the past, he was trying to do it with limited input from a coach who was 3,000 miles away.

His skating practice schedule includes a one-hour round trip to a nearby rink. His courses this semester include calculus, statistics, abnormal psychology and Listening to Music.

But it’s typical of Chen that when he had a break from classes last week, he used it to take on another challenge.

He went into an empty common room at one of Yale’s 14 residential colleges and sat down at a piano that was, to be polite, in need of some TLC.

Chen, 19, later said the exercise wasn’t just for fun and relaxation but rather to see if he remembered how to play the instrument, on which he had achieved a solid level of proficiency nine years ago but played little since.

Judging from the video snippets Chen posted on Instagram, the answer is yes.

In one, he performed part of the free skate music his U.S. teammate and good friend, Mariah Bell, is using this season. In another, he poked fun at his own skills and gave praise to singer-instrumentalists after trying to accompany himself on a Rainbow Kitten Surprise song called “Mr. Redudant.”

His comment overlaying the video: “MAD PROPS TO PEOPLE WHO SING + PLAY PIANO BC BOI IS IT HARD.”

Nathan Chen playing the piano.

Truth be told, what Chen is doing also deserves mad props.

Not only is he undefeated this season going into this week’s world championships in Saitama, Japan, Chen has been able to more than hold his own academically at Yale, saying there were “some As and Bs” on his first-semester transcript.

And, as with the piano, he hasn’t forgotten the important basic skating techniques that have helped him land one landmark quadruple jump after another.

“I’m proud he has still kept the skills he has been worked on all these years,” Rafael Arutunian, his coach, told me in a telephone interview last week. “His jumps are stable and strong.”

Still, Chen knows a shaky effort at worlds will raise doubts about the current path he has chosen.

That helps explain why, despite all the times Chen has expressed pleasure over his first-year experience at Yale, he is committed only to being non-committal about his plans beyond this academic year.

It seems likely he will request an academic leave for all or part of the next Olympic season, 2021-22, but Arutunian hopes Chen can take some time off before then.

Yale regulations allow undergraduates “in good academic standing” to take two terms of leave, which do not have to be consecutive. Yale also allows some students to take a third term of leave if they are doing accelerated classwork (graduation in six or seven semesters of work rather than the usual eight), and Chen mentioned on a media teleconference last week he intends to take some courses this summer.

“He’s a special guy, and I think he needs special treatment (from Yale),” Arutunian said. “I would like to see that happen.”

After Chen’s dazzling performances to win a third straight U.S. title in late January, Arutunian emphasized how important it had been that he and the skater were able to spend nearly three weeks together at the coach’s Southern California training base during Yale’s Christmas break.

They could have had another pre-competition stretch together last week, with Yale on spring break. But the coach thought a week was too short and would have made the sessions too intense. Chen also was suffering from a cold and decided to stay in New Haven before leaving Saturday and going directly to Japan, cutting down his travel.

“I didn’t want to see him right before a competition because he would try too hard to impress me and get tired,” Arutunian said. “We had enough time before nationals that he could work hard the first week and go easier after that.”

Arutunian said he has even limited the number of video chat coaching conversations the two have to avoid taking time Chen could be using for practice or school work. The coach is impressed with how well Chen has handled remaining one of the world’s best skaters and studying at one of the world’s best universities.

“For how he is doing in studies at Yale and in practicing most of the time by himself, he’s doing excellent,” Arutunian said. “He can’t just go home and rest after practice.”

But Arutunian recalled, almost wistfully, the way Chen had looked late last August at U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp (an evaluation session), which came after they had spent several weeks of concentrated training time together.

“He was doing so well it was amazing,” Arutunian said. “Everyone was shocked to see how well he was doing all the elements.”

The most encouraging thing about Chen’s skating this season is it has gotten better, with increased technical demands, as the season has gone on.

In his first individual event, October’s Skate America, his short program combination included just two triple jumps. By the next event, it was a quad-triple. Over Chen’s four competitions this season, his short program aggregate technical base value has gone from 39.96 to 41.97 to 43.05 to 47.67.

The progression has been similar in the free skate: three quads in the first two events, four in the next two, and a base value jump from 84.01 at Skate America to 94.39 at nationals.

A year ago, Chen did five free skate quads at nationals, all judged clean, and then a history-making six at the Olympics and worlds. (Nine of his 12 Olympic and worlds quads got positive Grades of Execution; the others all got full rotational credit.) But Chen said he might have been doing fewer quads now even without the extra time demands of college.

This season’s new rules have played into his tactics. Cutting 30 seconds from the men’s free skate, being able to repeat just one type of quad and having more reward for clean elements and more penalty for mistakes all encourages trying fewer quads. In the Grand Prix Final and nationals, Chen did a quad Lutz, a quad flip and two quad toes.

“Based off the way the season has been going and the rule changes, what I’ve been doing definitely is the right move,” Chen said. “Regardless of whether I was in college, I would probably follow a similar track. As of now, I’m happy with everything.”

That does not preclude Chen pulling out a fifth quad in the free skate this week. He tried a quad Salchow at his second Monday practice in Japan.

Chen has lost just one competition the past two seasons – the 2018 Olympics, in which a hot mess of a short program put him in 17th place. That he rallied to finish fifth by winning the free skate easily over eventual gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan was both a consolation prize and a needed confidence boost for Chen, who also had bombed the short program in the Olympic team event.

Chen went on to win the 2018 worlds without Hanyu, who was still recovering from the foot injury that nearly undid his hopes to win a second straight Olympic gold. As he seeks a third world title, Hanyu’s health is uncertain again after another foot injury has kept him out of competition since November.

How well Chen skates at worlds will factor “to some degree” in his decision about whether to enroll at Yale for next fall. He has until August to decide.

“It depends on what my goals are in skating,” Chen said. “I can always find time to continue my education. Skating has more of an end date.”

His skating schedule after worlds is to include appearances in nine of the 13 Stars on Ice shows in April and May, and he might return to Japan for the World Team Trophy in mid-April. Both are lucrative gigs.

Chen has no reservations about his answer to the question of how well he has managed his dual obligations, especially given the immediate naysaying from some critics when he struggled competitively early in the season despite winning.

“Has it gone better than you hoped?” Chen was asked.

“Definitely,” he said. “(And) it was just an experience I didn’t want to give up on before I ever tried it.  I’m glad I gave myself the shot to attempt both.

“I’ve really, really enjoyed myself being in college, and I’m happy with the way things have been going there. Skating has been going well too, so I can’t really complain.”

Not when Nathan Chen can play the complicated score to his life well enough that it sounds like harmony in a major key.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: How Japan built figure skating powerhouse

As a reminder, you can watch the world 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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Lance Armstrong timeline: cancer, Tour de France, doping admission

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A look at the rise and fall of Lance Armstrong, who beat testicular cancer to win a record seven Tour de France titles, then was found guilty of and admitted to doping for the majority of his career …

Aug. 2, 1992: Armstrong, then a 20-year-old amateur cyclist who had left triathlon because it wasn’t an Olympic sport, makes his Olympic debut at the Barcelona Games. He finishes 14th in the road race as the top American, missing a late breakaway. “I don’t think it was one of my better days, unfortunately,” Armstrong said on NBC. “Last couple weeks, everything has been perfect, but today, I just didn’t have what it took.” A week later, Armstrong finished last of 111 riders in his pro debut.

Aug. 29, 1993: Wins the world championships road race, becoming the second U.S. man to win a senior road cycling world title after three-time Tour de France winner Greg LeMond. Armstrong prevails by 19 seconds over Spain’s Miguel Indurain, who won five straight Tours de France from 1991-95. “I’m not sure I’m cut out to be a Tour racer,” Armstrong said, according to the Chicago Tribune. “I love the Tour de France; it’s my favorite bike race, but I’m not fool enough to sit here and say I’m going to win it. For the time being, I’m a one-day rider.”

Aug. 3, 1996: After failing to finish three of his first four Tour de France appearances (and placing 36th in the other), is sixth in the Atlanta Olympic time trial. “This was a big goal and something that I wanted to do well in and wanted the American people to see success,” Armstrong said on NBC. “The legs just weren’t there to win or to medal. I have to move forward and look to the next thing.”

Oct. 2, 1996: Diagnosed with testicular cancer. A day later, he undergoes surgery to have the malignant right testicle removed. Five days later, he begins chemotherapy. Six days later, Armstrong holds a press conference to announce it publicly, saying the cancer spread to his abdomen (and, later, his brain). He described it as “between moderate and advanced” and that his oncologist told him the cure rate was between 65 and 85 percent. “I will win,” Armstrong says. “I intend to beat this disease, and further, I intend to ride again as a professional cyclist.”

Oct. 27, 1996: Betsy Andreu later testifies that, on this date, Armstrong told a doctor at Indiana University Hospital that he had taken performance-enhancing drugs; EPO, testosterone, growth hormone, cortisone and steroids. Andreu said she and others were in a room to hear this. Her husband, Frankie Andreu, an Armstrong cycling teammate, confirmed her recollection to the U.S. Anti-Doping Agency (USADA). Armstrong, in admitting to doping in 2013, declined to address what became known as “the hospital room confession,” which he previously refuted.

January 1997: Establishes the Lance Armstrong Foundation, later called Livestrong, to support cancer awareness and research. Is later declared cancer-free.

Feb. 15, 1998: Returns to racing. Later in September, finishes fourth in his Grand Tour return at the Vuelta a Espana, one of the three Grand Tours after the Giro d’Italia and Tour de France.

1999 Tour de France: Achieves global fame by winning cycling’s most prestigious event in his first Tour de France start since his cancer diagnosis. Armstrong was not a pre-event favorite, but he won the opening 4.2-mile prologue to set the tone. He won all three time trials and, by the end, distanced second-place Alex Zulle by 7 minutes, 37 seconds in a Tour that lacked the previous two winners — Jan Ullrich and Marco Pantani. Armstrong faced doping questions during the three-week Tour. An Armstrong urine sample revealed a small amount of a corticosteroid, after which Armstrong produced a prescription for a cream to treat saddle sores to justify it. “There’s no secrets here,” Armstrong said after Stage 14. “We have the oldest secret in the book: hard work.”

2000 Tour de France: With Ullrich and Pantani in the field, Armstrong crushed them on Stage 10, taking the yellow jersey by four minutes. He ends up winning the Tour by 6:02 over Ullrich, who over the years became the closest thing Armstrong had to a rival. In a Nike commercial that debuted in January that year, Armstrong again attacked his critics, saying, “Everybody wants to know what I’m on. What am I on? I’m on my bike, busting my ass six hours a day. What are you on?”

Sept. 30, 2000: Takes bronze in the Sydney Olympic time trial, behind Russian Viatcheslav Ekimov (a teammate on Armstrong’s Tour de France teams) and Ullrich. Armstrong would be stripped of the bronze medal 12 years later for doping. “I came to win the gold medal,” he said on NBC. “When you prepare for an event and you come and you do your best, and you don’t win, you have to say, I didn’t deserve to win.”

2001 Tour de France: Third straight Tour title. In Stage 10 on the iconic Alpe d’Huez, Armstrong gave what came to be known as “The Look,” turning back to stare in sunglasses at Ullrich, then accelerating away to win the stage by 1:59 over the German. “I decided to give a look, see how he was, then give a little surge and see what happened,” Armstrong said after the stage. Also that year, LeMond gives a famous quote to journalist David Walsh on Armstrong: “If it is true, it is the greatest comeback in the history of sport. If it is not, it is the greatest fraud.”

2002 Tour de France: Fourth title in a row — by 7:17 over Joseba Beloki sans Ullirch and Pantani — with few notable highlights. Maybe the most memorable, French fans yelling “Dope!” as he chased Richard Virenque (another disgraced doper) up the esteemed Mont Ventoux. Armstrong would be named Sports Illustrated Sportsman of the Year.

2003 Tour de France: By far the closest of the Tour wins — by 1:01 over Ullrich — with two very close calls. In Stage 9, Armstrong detoured through a field to avoid a crashing Beloki, who broke his right femur and never contended at a Grand Tour again. In Stage 15, Armstrong’s handlebars caught a spectator’s yellow bag. He crashed to the pavement, remounted and won the stage, upping his lead from 15 seconds to 1:07 over Ullrich.

2004 Tour de France: Record-breaking sixth Tour de France title. Jacques AnquetilEddy MerckxBernard Hinault and Indurain shared the record of five, and now share the record again after Armstrong’s titles were stripped. Earlier in 2004, the Livestrong yellow bracelet/wristband is introduced. Tens of millions would be sold. He skips the 2004 Athens Olympics, which began three weeks after the Tour ended.

April 18, 2005: Announces he will retire after the 2005 Tour de France. “My children are my biggest supporters, but at the same time, they are the ones who told me it’s time to come home,” Armstrong says. On the same day, former teammate and 2004 Olympic time trial champion Tyler Hamilton is banned two years for blood doping.

2005 Tour de France: Finishes career with seventh Tour de France title. Armstrong remains defiant until the end. In his victory speech atop a podium on the Champs-Elysees, he says with girlfriend Sheryl Crow looking on, “The last thing I’ll say, for the people that don’t believe in cycling, the cynics and the skeptics, I”m sorry for you. I’m sorry you can’t dream big. And I’m sorry you don’t believe in miracles.” A month later, French sports daily newspaper L’Equipe publishes a front-page article headlined, “Le Mensonge Armstrong” or “The Armstrong Lie.” It reports that six Armstrong doping samples at the 1999 Tour de France showed the presence of the banned EPO.

Sept. 9, 2008: Announces comeback, the reason being “to launch an international cancer strategy,” in a video on his foundation’s website. In his 2013 doping confession, Armstrong says he regrets the comeback. “We wouldn’t be sitting here if I didn’t come back,” he tells Oprah Winfrey on primetime TV.

2009 Tour de France: Finishes third, 5:24 behind rival Astana teammate and Spanish winner Alberto Contador. “I can’t complain,” Armstrong said on Versus after the penultimate stage finishing atop Mont Ventoux. “For an old fart, coming in here, getting on the podium with these young guys, not so bad.” USADA later reported that scientific data showed Armstrong used EPO or blood transfusions during that Tour, which Armstrong denied in 2013 when admitting to doping earlier in his career.

2010 Tour de France: Finishes 23rd in his last Tour de France. Armstrong races after former teammate Floyd Landis admits to doping and accuses Armstrong and other former teammates of doping during the Tour de France wins. “At some point, people have to tell their kids that Santa Claus isn’t real,” Landis says in a “Nightline” interview that aired the final weekend of the Tour.

Feb. 16, 2011: Announces retirement, citing tiredness (in multiple respects) at age 39. “I can’t say I have any regrets. It’s been an excellent ride. I really thought I was going to win another Tour,” Armstrong said, according to The Associated Press. “Then I lined up like everybody else and wound up third.”

Aug. 24, 2012: USADA announces Armstrong is banned for life, and all of his results dating to Aug. 1, 1998, annulled, including all seven Tour de France titles. Armstrong chose not to contest the charges, which were first sent to him in a June letter, though he did not publicly admit to cheating. USADA releases details of the investigation in October. The International Cycling Union chooses not to contest USADA’s ruling, formally stripping him of the Tour de France titles. “Lance Armstrong has no place in cycling,” UCI President Pat McQuaid says. In November, a defiant Armstrong tweets an image of him lying on a couch in a room with seven framed Tour de France yellow jerseys on the walls.

Jan. 17, 2013: Admits to doping during all of his Tour de France victories in the Oprah confession that airs on primetime TV. “I viewed this situation as one big lie that I repeated a lot of times,” Armstrong says in a pre-recorded interview. “It’s just this mythic, perfect story, and it wasn’t true.” Armstrong said he did not view it as cheating while he was taking PEDs because others did, too. On the same day, the International Olympic Committee strips Armstrong of his 2000 Olympic bronze medal.

MORE: Giro, Vuelta overlap in new cycling schedule

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Anna Veith retires, leaves Austrian Alpine skiing in unfamiliar territory

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Anna Veith has retired from Alpine skiing, leaving Austria without an active woman who has won a World Cup overall title for the first time in 27 years.

Veith announced her retirement on a German-language live stream interview Saturday after a montage of career highlights set to Destiny’s Child’s “Survivor.” She was in tears after watching a series of video messages from the likes of fellow champion ski racers Marcel HirscherTina Maze and Lara Gut.

“I‘m ready for the next chapter,” was posted on Veith’s Instagram minutes later. “My heart and head are telling me it‘s time to do something new. And so, I have decided to retire from ski racing.
Skiing is my whole life. It has made me who I am today and will always be something I’m passionate about. I am so grateful for the opportunities I’ve had, to learn and achieve in the past fifteen years. I’ve been able to fulfil my childhood dreams and more.”

Veith, 30, won the overall, the biggest annual prize in ski racing, in 2014 and 2015. Lindsey Vonn was in between major leg injuries. Mikaela Shiffrin was still on the rise.

Veith, then Anna Fenninger, blossomed into the world’s best skier in her early 20s. After winning the 2014 Olympic super-G, she finished first or second in five of her last six starts of that World Cup season to overtake a retiring German Maria Hoefl-Riesch for the crown.

The following year, Veith again came from behind, this time edging Slovenian Tina Maze in the last race of the season.

Everything changed on Oct. 21, 2015. Veith crashed in training, tearing ligaments and the patellar tendon in her right knee, three days before the start of the season. She missed 14 months of races.

Veith, after a 2016-17 season-ending left knee surgery, returned to the top of a World Cup podium in December 2017. At her last Olympics in PyeongChang, Veith skied into first place from the 15th bib in the super-G, looking to cap an improbable ride to a repeat gold medal.

Then something more surprising happened: World champion snowboarder Ester Ledecka beat Veith’s time by .01 from the 26th starting position, relegating Veith to silver. Pre-race medal contenders are usually done by bib 20. Ledecka’s best prior World Cup race finish was a seventh.

Veith tore another right knee ligament in January 2019, then returned this past season with a best finish of seventh.

With Veith’s retirement, Austria has zero active Olympic or World Cup overall champions in women’s Alpine skiing. Austria, the most successful Olympic Alpine nation in history, had at least one active World Cup overall champion every day since Anita Wachter‘s crown in 1993.

In the most recent abbreviated World Cup season, Austria had zero women win a discipline or overall title, though Nicole Schmidhofer won the 2017 World super-G title and the 2019 World Cup downhill season crown.

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