Nathan Chen
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Nathan Chen weighs unknown variables of next figure skating season

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Nathan Chen is a statistics and data science major at Yale.

But even his fluency in those subjects can’t help Chen much now in finding answers to questions about his future.

“Too many variables,” Chen said this week via telephone from California.

Not to mention all the complete unknowns in any equation Chen might use to help define his plans.

For the two-time defending figure skating world champion, that starts with the unknown about when he can back on the ice for the first time since the 2020 World Championships were cancelled in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

And:

  • Will there be a 2020-21 figure skating season? If so, beginning when?
  • Will Yale classes this fall be virtual, as they were for the just-completed second semester of his sophomore year, meaning Chen could stay in school and stay in California to keep training daily with his coach, Rafael Arutunian, rather than being 3,000 miles apart and working together in occasional video chats?

Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, Chen had been leaning toward starting a pre-2022 Olympic leave from Yale as of now. He has rented an apartment in California.

“Raf is definitely trying to influence me to stay,” Chen said. “Before I make an official statement, it’s better to wait and see how the fall semester will shape up.”

(Yale plans to announce by early July whether classes will be in-person, online or a hybrid.)

“If classes remain virtual and/or if there is no Grand Prix this fall, that might influence my decisions about school.”

Chen, 21, has won all his competitions since moving to New Haven to study in August 2018. That streak includes one world title, two Grand Prix Finals, two U.S. titles and four individual Grand Prix events.

For all that, the worlds cancellation left a critical gap in his decision-making data.

“I was using last season’s results to sort of determine what to do about school,” Chen said. “Because worlds didn’t happen, it’s harder to say.”

The ISU intends to announce by Aug. 1 whether Skate America, the Grand Prix opener, can take place as scheduled Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas. Decisions will similarly be made 12 weeks in advance of each of the other five “regular-season” Grand Prix events, which follow one week after another until a two-week break before the Grand Prix Final.

This part of the year is usually the lightest period of Chen’s annual training schedule. His time on ice would mainly have been doing tour appearances with Stars on Ice and some other shows, all of which have been cancelled.

“I’m working out trying to keep my body in shape, but I’ve been quite lazy lately,” Chen said, with a laugh. “A lot of watching movies and some playing the piano, which I did when I was younger.”

Chen estimated it would take at least two months of being back on the ice full-time to get into competitive shape for an event like Skate America, which normally comes in the trial-and-error part of the season.

“That’s a bare minimum, especially if we have to consider new programs,” he said.

Chen has done two new programs in each of his four senior international seasons and re-used just one program in the last 11 seasons. Given potential time constraints, he might be inclined to recycle something for this season.

“If we must, we must, but I’m not a huge fan of that,” Chen said.

Another unknown variable.

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

MORE: Figure skating’s latest recalculations change skaters’ formula for success

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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‘Race and Sports in America: Conversations’ primetime special covers social justice, combating inequality

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Athletes, including Olympians, discussed social justice, locker room conversations about race and ways that sports can help combat inequality in “Race and Sports in America: Conversations,” airing Monday at 8 p.m. ET on NBCSN, Olympic Channel, Golf Channel and NBC Sports Regional Networks.

NBC Sports’ Damon Hack hosted roundtables with active and retired athletes at the American Century Championship Golf Tournament in Lake Tahoe, Nevada, last week.

Panelists, including Olympians James Blake and Charles Barkley and Tokyo Olympic hopeful Stephen Curry, also reflected on personal experiences.

Barkley, an Olympic gold medalist in 1992 and 1996, said coaches recently reached out to him to speak to their teams.

“First of all, relax and breathe,” Barkley said. “This crap started 400 years ago. We can’t do nothing about that. We can’t do anything about systematic racism. What I challenge every Black person, every white person to do: What can I do today going forward?

“You have to ask yourself, I want to be part of the solution, not part of the problem. Because if you’re not part of the solution, you’re part of the problem.”

Blake, a retired former top-five tennis player and 2008 Olympian, was wrestled to the ground, handcuffed and arrested by a plainclothes New York City police officer in 2015 in a case of mistaken identity caught on video. The police officer’s punishment was a loss of five vacation days.

“The first thing I said when I got tackled was, I’m complying 100 percent,” Blake said. “And that shouldn’t have to be your response the first time you interact with a police officer. And because that’s the way my dad taught me is stay alive. Do whatever you can to stay alive. Sort it out later with lawyers or however you want to do it, and stay alive in that moment. The fact you have to have those rules in 2020 means maybe we have to do something drastic to change the way police interact with the African-American community and the way the community interacts with the police.”

Curry said his daughters, 7-year-old Riley and 5-year-old Ryan, asked questions about the images they recently saw. He’s not shielding them, but rather being honest about society, going back centuries.

“We have to continue to double down and double down and keep people accountable in all walks of life, all industries, all forms of leadership, the judicial system, all those type of things,” Curry said. “And hopefully for my kids’ generation, their kids, we will see change. I’m hopeful and optimistic about, but I understand how much work will need to go into that.”

The full list of athletes who participated in the “Race and Sports in America: Conversations” roundtables:

• Charles Barkley – 1992 and 1996 Olympic basketball champion
• James Blake – 10-time ATP tennis champion, 2008 Olympian
• Stephen Curry – two-time NBA MVP, two-time FIBA world champion
• Troy Mullins – World Long Drive competitor
• Anthony Lynn – Los Angeles Chargers head coach
• Jimmy Rollins – World Series champion shortstop
• Kyle Rudolph – Minnesota Vikings tight end
• Ozzie Smith – Major League Baseball Hall of Famer

Additionally, Hack was joined by Super Bowl champion running back Jerome Bettis for an extended interview that will be published on NBC Sports’ digital and podcast platforms.

MORE: Elana Meyers Taylor’s claims of racism in bobsled being investigated

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Shelby Houlihan shatters American 5000m record

Shelby Houlihan
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Shelby Houlihan chopped 10.52 seconds off her own American 5000m record, clocking 14:23.92 at a Bowerman Track Club intrasquad meet in Portland, Ore., on Friday night.

Houlihan, who was 11th in the Rio Olympic 5000m, has in this Olympic cycle improved to become one of the greatest female distance runners in U.S. history.

She first broke Shannon Rowbury‘s American record in the 5000m by 4.47 seconds in 2018. In 2019, she broke Rowbury’s American record in the 1500m by 1.3 seconds in finishing fourth at the world championships in 3:54.99.

On Friday, Houlihan and second-place Karissa Schweizer both went under the American record. Schweizer, 24 and three years younger than Houlihan, clocked 14:26.34, staying with Houlihan until the winner’s 61-second final lap.

“I knew Karissa was going to try to come up on me and take the lead. She does that every time,” Houlihan told USATF.tv. “I had decided I was not going to let that happen.”

Houlihan improved from 41st to 12th on the world’s all-time 5000m list, 12.77 seconds behind Ethiopian Tirunesh Dibaba‘s world record.

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