No burnout for ‘Rocket Man’ Nathan Chen

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Last season, Nathan Chen made it all look so easy.

An undefeated Grand Prix series, including his second Grand Prix Final victory. His third U.S. title. A second world title, won with personal best scores.

All while navigating his freshman year at Yale, and earning solid grades. He hasn’t lost a full competition since PyeongChang.

As a sophomore, though, the 20-year-old figure skater expects a tougher road. Yale’s fall academic schedule isn’t quite as cooperative as last year. Chen, who opens his season at the free skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 5 and Skate America two weeks later, will miss some classes when he travels to Grenoble for Internationaux de France the first week of November.

He also expects to burn a bit more midnight oil than he did as a freshman.

“School will be a little harder, with harder classes,” Chen said while attending U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp at his hometown training rink in Irvine, Calif., in late August. “A lot of my classes last semester were pre-reqs for the major requirements. Now I’m starting to actually hit the major requirements, so that’ll be pretty challenging classes, but it should be all right. I may get tutors to help me.”

Experience taught the Statistics and Data Technology (STEM) major how to best arrange his schedule. Last year, he took Spanish as one of his electives, with the class meeting five times a week. This season, Chen said, he’s focusing on courses that meet once or twice a week.

“The first semester wasn’t ideal, but I’m arranging my schedule so that it is a little bit more manageable to some degree, while at the same time fitting in all the requirements that I need,” he said. “I will leave language for when I come back.”

Chen means after the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where he will challenge for a gold medal after placing fifth in PyeongChang (17th in the short program; first in the free skate). While he has not announced concrete plans, he has talked of the possibility of taking a sabbatical from Yale prior to Beijing.

Chen’s offseason gave him little respite from travel. His schedule included skating shows in Japan last month. There, he performed his new competitive short program, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne to Charles Aznavour’s “La Boheme.”

Then Chen showed much of his new free skate at a show in Sun Valley, Idaho. It’s set to selections (including “Rocket Man” and “Bennie and the Jets”) from the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Marie-France (Dubreuil), the choreographer I’m working with, was really inspired by the movie and wanted to do a piece to it,” Chen said. “If the choreographer is really inspired or feels as though they can do a good job with it, I can let them run free with it.”

Despite his busy summer, Chen thinks he’s had plenty of time training with California-based coach Rafael Arutunian.

“The way that he teaches us is not really on a day-to-day basis,” Chen said. “He kind of just gives us general ideas and we work on his concepts and stuff like that. … We just need to be on the same page.”

This season, Arutunian – who also trains U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell, Canadian junior star Stephen Gogolev and many others – may make a few trips to Connecticut to sharpen Chen’s technique, especially his all-important quadruple jumps.

“We were planning on that last season, but (it) never actually ended up happening, so we’ll see what happens this year,” Chen said. “I want Raf to come, but he has a lot of skaters. He has a lot of other people that he’s committed to, so it’s kind of difficult for him to pop out. But, at the end of the day, if he can that would be great.”

MORE: Alysa Liu becomes first U.S. woman to land quad

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season 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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Kendall Gretsch wins six gold medals at Para Nordic Ski Worlds

Kendall Gretsch
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Kendall Gretsch, who won Paralympic titles at the last Summer and Winter Games, added another six gold medals at the World Para Nordic Skiing Championships in Sweden last week.

Gretsch, 30, earned seven total medals in seven days between biathlon and cross-country skiing.

Gretsch won gold medals in three different sports across the last three Paralympics: biathlon and cross-country skiing in 2018 (two years after taking up the sports), triathlon in 2021 and biathlon in 2022.

She plans to shift her focus back to triathlon after this winter for 2024 Paris Games qualification.

Gretsch, born with spina bifida, was the 2014 USA Triathlon Female Para Triathlete of the Year. Though triathlon was added to the Paralympics for the 2016 Rio Games, her classification was not added until Tokyo.

Also at last week’s worlds, six-time Paralympian Aaron Pike earned his first Paralympic or world championships gold medal in his decade-plus career, winning a 12.5km biathlon event.

Oksana Masters, who won seven medals in seven events at last year’s Paralympics to break the career U.S. Winter Paralympics medals record, missed worlds due to hand surgery.

The U.S. also picked up five medals at last week’s World Para Alpine Skiing Championships in Spain — three silvers for five-time Paralympian Laurie Stephens and two bronzes for 17-year-old Saylor O’Brien.

Stephens now has 18 career medals from world championships, plus seven at the Paralympics.

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World champion skier Kyle Smaine dies in avalanche at age 31

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Kyle Smaine, a retired world champion halfpipe skier, died in an avalanche in Japan on Sunday, according to NBC News, citing Smaine’s father. He was 31.

Smaine, a 2015 World champion in ski halfpipe, had been doing ski filming in Japan, sharing videos on his Instagram account over the past week.

The native of South Lake Tahoe, California, finished ninth in ski halfpipe at the 2016 Winter X Games in Aspen, Colorado.

In 2018, Smaine won the fifth and final U.S. Olympic qualifying series event in ski halfpipe but did not make the four-man team for PyeongChang. His last sanctioned international competition was in February 2018.

Late Sunday, two-time Olympic champion David Wise won the X Games men’s ski halfpipe and dedicated it to Smaine.

“We all did this for Kyle tonight,” Wise said on the broadcast. “It’s a little bit of an emotional day for us. We lost a friend.”