Nathan Chen digs into advanced statistics textbook while writing his own such numbers in U.S. skating record book

ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating - Skate America
Getty Images
0 Comments

The wonk in Nathan Chen has ensured that even while he is taking time off from attending college, he isn’t taking time off from studying.

Chen, a rising junior at Yale, decided last fall was as good a time as any to begin a leave of absence from school to prepare for the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics because his classes would have been remote even if he had been in New Haven, Connecticut.

But he got friends to send him the textbooks he will eventually be using in chemistry and advanced statistics courses for a little light reading.

“Nothing super serious,” he said during a Zoom interview last week. “Just trying to get through a chapter a day.”

After two seasons of questions about whether he could remain among the world’s leading skaters with a full course load at a university 3,000 miles from his coach (the answer was an emphatic, “yes”), Chen came to realize that the balance between school and skating helped him with both.

On the skating side, Chen’s results speak for themselves as he seeks a fifth straight title at the U.S. Championships in Las Vegas, with the men’s short program Saturday and free skate Sunday.

Since matriculating at Yale in the fall of 2018, Chen has won a second straight world title, a third and fourth straight U.S. title, two straight Grand Prix Final titles and 11 straight competitions. His dazzling performances at the 2019 worlds and 2019 Grand Prix Final produced the two highest free skate and total scores ever under the current system.

“I miss it,” Chen said of being at Yale, where he is majoring in statistics and data science. “Having the change of mind as you switch from skating to school is a nice break from skating.

“[I miss] being able to spend time with friends, go to study groups and work with TAs (teaching assistants) and professors, to feel you are being mentally stimulated in a way you don’t find skating. I still find that a little bit because I’m keeping up with the material. Of course, it’s very different without the exams and homework and stuff like that.”

He was on campus until March of last year, when the pandemic led Yale to send its students home. Chen finished his sophomore year with final exams that he took online from California, and he intends to formally resume his education in the fall of 2022.

Chen’s longtime coach, Rafael Arutunian, frequently said in the past two years how he wanted more face-to-face time with Chen. Chen told Nick Zaccardi of NBC Sports in August that he had originally been likely to return to Yale for the 2020-21 academic year and then take a leave in the 2021-22 academic year, but the pandemic changed his plans.

“I was surprised by not only how well he did the last two seasons but because he kept everything we did years before,” Arutunian said. “I also wasn’t surprised because if you build something well, it lasts longer. The surprise is he kept everything for two years.”

The pandemic and California fires have presented new challenges for Chen. His rink shut down for the first nine weeks of spring. He wears a mask while training in a high intensity sport, and the mask took on a dual purpose when smoke from the fires infiltrated the rink.

His apartment building was evacuated because it was close to one of the fires. That occurred as he was driving back from Las Vegas after winning a fourth straight Skate America title in late October, leading him to spend a night with his brother in San Diego.

“A lot of people are struggling a lot more than elite athletes, so I don’t think there is much to complain about,” Chen said. “Man, we get this opportunity, so make the most of it.

“I’m just really appreciating the fact that I have training time, healthy training mates and people that are being responsible and staying safe — and going to nationals and having the opportunity to compete.”

Chen is on the verge of becoming the first man to win five straight U.S. singles titles since two-time Olympic champion Dick Button in 1950. (Button would extend that U.S. streak to seven before retiring from competition with two Olympic gold medals and five world titles.) Chen fully understands the significance of being linked to Button, the greatest – and most dominant – skater in U.S. history.

“Dick has a name that has been around forever and definitely was a source of inspiration [for me] growing up,” Chen said. “[Winning a fifth straight] can be something I can cherish dearly the rest of my life.”

Since results became less predictable with the end of compulsory figures after the 1990 season, only one man other than Chen has won more than two straight titles (Johnny Weir, with three). And Chen’s huge margins of victory attest to his national dominance: 55 points in 2017, then 41, 58 and 37.

“For now, I don’t compare anyone to Dick Button,” Arutunian said. “If Nathan continues to build his skating, he can be like Dick Button.”

Chen’s historical peers at the U.S. Championships – some of the men who also won four straight national titles – are impressed by what he has done so far.

From Scott Hamilton, the 1984 Olympic champion: “He has won at every level, and that hasn’t prevented him from continuing to want more and move forward. Technically he is solid, or should I say, ‘perfect.’ There isn’t a moment when he’s on the ice that he isn’t building a score.”

From Brian Boitano, 1988 Olympic champion: “His composure. His ease of jumping. His humility. They are all equal things I admire about him.”

From Hayes Jenkins, 1956 Olympian champion: “Nathan continues to mature artistically. His presentation has become more refined as he continues. I know he has a background in ballet, and he is managing to show that side of himself within the confines of the IJS system.”

Chen reflected last week on how difficult it is to include more artistry in programs packed with quadruple jumps.

“I tried to expand time in the choreo sequence of the long program, sneaking a couple seconds here and there throughout the (rest of) the program,” Chen said. “But it is so technically loaded right now that it is hard for me to steal some time before a certain element just because I need a certain amount of time to prep for a salchow or a certain amount of time to prep for a toe (loop) or whatnot.”

Chen likely will attempt four quads in the long program at this national championships, but don’t expect one to be the quad loop he dragged out of mothballs for the team competition that followed Skate America. He had last included the jump in competition at the 2017 Japan Open.

“I would love to do it, but the success (rate) has been quite low recently in practice, so that is sort of a game-time decision,” Chen said. “If I am able to get my success rate up a little bit, then I think that I will have a higher chance of putting it in. If it is going the way it is now, probably not.”

Like all the other top skaters in a season that has lurched along while looking for ways to mitigate the COVID-19 risk – no fans at the U.S. Championships, as was the case at Skate America; athletes and coaches in a Las Vegas hotel/rink bubble – Chen is aware that the 2022 Winter Games in Beijing are inexorably creeping closer.

“That is in the back of everyone’s mind,” he said.

Under normal circumstances, the world championships in the pre-Olympic season would be the most significant event before the Winter Games. The 2021 championships in late March in Stockholm still are scheduled to take place. The 2020 worlds in Montreal were cancelled.

“If they have it, I would love to be there.” Chen said of worlds. “I am just a little concerned about coronavirus and the safety of the athletes… as long as everyone is safe, and it is a responsibly done event, by all means, I would love to be there.”

Part of his desire to be at worlds is the chance to compete again with two-time reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. Each credits the other’s success for having pushed him to greater heights. They have not met since the 2019 Grand Prix Final.

“Competing with him is such a unique feeling and experience, and I really love it and always look forward to it,” Chen said of Hanyu.

Chen was among those duly impressed by how well Hanyu skated at the Japanese Championships in late December. It was Hanyu’s first competition since February.

“I know he has been training by himself, and training in isolation is pretty tough, so I give him a lot of credit for still being able to stay on top of his game,” said Chen, who has beaten the redoubtable Hanyu in their two most recent meetings, both in the 2019-20 season.

They have not only an exciting skating rivalry but also a commitment to higher education in common. In September, Hanyu completed his degree in human information science at Waseda University, using motion capture to convert movement on the ice into digital data.

The two rulers of the sport also are kings of the nerds.

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

Eliud Kipchoge breaks marathon world record in Berlin

Eliud Kipchoge Berlin Marathon
Getty
0 Comments

Kenyan Eliud Kipchoge broke his own world record in winning the Berlin Marathon, clocking 2:01:09 to lower the previous record time of 2:01:39 he set in the German capital in 2018.

Kipchoge, 37 and a two-time Olympic champion, earned his 15th win in 17 career marathons to bolster his claim as the greatest runner in history over 26.2 miles.

His pacing was not ideal. Kipchoge slowed in the final miles, running 61:18 for the second half after going out in an unprecedented 59:51 for the first 13.1 miles. He still won by 4:49 over Kenyan Mark Korir.

“I was planning to go through it [the halfway mark] 60:50, 60:40,” Kipchoge said. “My legs were running actually very fast. I thought, let me just try to run two hours flat, but all in all, I am happy with the performance.

“We went too fast [in the first half]. It takes energy from the muscles. … There’s still more in my legs [to possibly lower the record again].”

MORE: Berlin Marathon Results

Ethiopian Tigist Assefa won the women’s race in 2:15:37, the third-fastest time in history for somebody who ran one prior marathon in 2:34:01. Only Brigid Kosgei (2:14:14 in Chicago in 2019) and Paula Radcliffe (2:15:25 in London in 2003) have gone faster.

American record holder Keira D’Amato, who entered as the top seed, was sixth in 2:21:48. D’Amato, who went nearly a decade between competitive races after college, owns the American record of 2:19:12 and now also the 10th-best time in U.S. history.

“Today wasn’t my best day ever, but it was the best I could do today,” she said in a text message, according to Race Results Weekly, adding that she briefly stopped and walked late in the race.

The last eight instances the men’s marathon world record has been broken, it has come on the pancake-flat roads of Berlin. It began in 2003, when Kenyan Paul Tergat became the first man to break 2:05.

The world record was 2:02:57 — set by Kenyan Dennis Kimetto in 2014 — until Kipchoge broke it for the first time four years ago.

The following year, Kipchoge became the first person to cover 26.2 miles in under two hours, clocking 1:59:40 in a non-record-eligible showcase rather than a race.

Kipchoge’s focus going forward is trying to become the first runner to win three Olympic marathon titles in Paris in 2024. He also wants to win all six annual World Marathon Majors. He’s checked off four of them, only missing Boston (run in April) and New York City (run every November).

Kipchoge grew up on a farm in Kapsabet in Kenya’s Rift Valley, often hauling by bike several gallons of the family’s milk to sell at the local market. Raised by a nursery school teacher, he ran more than three miles to and from school. He saved for five months to get his first pair of running shoes.

At 18, he upset legends Hicham El Guerrouj and Kenenisa Bekele to win the 2003 World 5000m title on the track. He won Olympic 5000m medals (bronze in 2004 and silver in 2008), then moved to the marathon after failing to make the 2012 Olympic team on the track.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup schedule, results

FIBA Women's World Cup
Getty
0 Comments

The U.S. goes for its fourth consecutive title at the FIBA World Cup in Sydney — and eighth global gold in a row overall when including the Olympics.

A’ja Wilson, a two-time WNBA MVP, and Breanna Stewart, the Tokyo Olympic MVP, headline a U.S. roster that, for the first time since 2000, includes neither Sue Bird (retired) nor Diana Taurasi (injured).

The new-look team includes nobody over the age of 30 for the first time since 1994, before the U.S. began its dynasty at the 1996 Atlanta Games. The Americans have won 52 consecutive games between worlds and the Olympics dating to the 2006 Worlds bronze-medal game.

The field also includes host Australia, the U.S.’ former primary rival, and Olympic silver medalist Japan.

Nigeria, which played the U.S. the closest of any foe in Tokyo (losing by nine points), isn’t present after its federation withdrew the team over governance issues. Spain, ranked second in the world, failed to qualify.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

2022 FIBA Women’s World Cup Schedule

Date Time (ET) Game Round
Wed., Sept. 21 8:30 p.m. Puerto Rico 82, Bosnia and Herzegovina 58 Group A
9:30 p.m. USA 87, Belgium 72 Group A
11 p.m. Canada 67, Serbia 60 Group B
Thurs., Sept. 22 12 a.m. Japan 89, Mali 56 Group B
3:30 a.m. China 107, South Korea 44 Group A
6:30 a.m. France 70, Australia 57 Group B
8:30 p.m. USA 106, Puerto Rico 42 Group A
10 p.m. Serbia 69, Japan 64 Group B
11 p.m. Belgium 84, South Korea 61 Group A
Fri., Sept. 23 12:30 a.m. China 98, Bosnia and Herzegovina 51 Group A
4 a.m. Canada 59, France 45 Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia 118, Mali 58 Group B
Sat., Sept. 24 12:30 a.m. USA 77, China 63 Group A
4 a.m. South Korea 99, Bosnia and Herzegovina 66 Group A
6:30 a.m. Belgium 68, Puerto Rico 65 Group A
Sun., Sept. 25 12:30 a.m. France 74, Mali 59 Group B
4 a.m. Australia 69, Serbia 54 Group B
6:30 a.m. Canada 70, Japan 56 Group B
9:30 p.m. Belgium vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
11:30 p.m. Mali vs. Serbia Group B
Mon., Sept. 26 12 a.m. USA vs. South Korea Group A
2 a.m. France vs. Japan Group B
3:30 a.m. China vs. Puerto Rico Group A
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Canada Group B
9:30 p.m. Puerto Rico vs. South Korea Group A
11:30 p.m. Belgium vs. China Group A
Tues., Sept. 27 12 a.m. USA vs. Bosnia and Herzegovina Group A
2 a.m. Canada vs. Mali Group B
3:30 a.m. France vs. Serbia Group B
6:30 a.m. Australia vs. Japan Group B
Wed., Sept. 28 10 p.m. Quarterfinal
Thurs., Sept. 29 12:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
4 a.m. Quarterfinal
6:30 a.m. Quarterfinal
Fri., Sept. 30 3 .m. Semifinal
5:30 a.m. Semifinal
11 p.m. Third-Place Game
Sat., Oct. 1 2 a.m. Final