By the numbers, Nathan Chen’s jumps add up to a new dimension of skating

U.S. Figure Skating Championships
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Having basically exhausted the English language’s supply of superlatives to describe Nathan Chen’s skating over the past three seasons, I woke up Sunday morning looking for other ways to find context for what seemed his almost certain fifth straight U.S. title.

Without more than a gut feeling, which was intensified by his commanding execution Saturday of the most technically difficult short program he had done since 2018, I had a sense that Chen has had a remarkable success rate for several years in programs packed with the toughest array of jumps anyone ever has tried in the sport.

So, with the help of the data mining genius behind the invaluable web site (who prefers anonymity), I set off to dredge through old scoring protocols to see whether statistical evidence supported my intuition about how consistently good Chen’s jumping has been during an unbeaten streak in 12 individual live competitions that began with the 2018 World Championships.

I would wind up going in a slightly different direction for my Sunday story on Chen’s triumph, partly because he stumbled and nearly fell on his first jump in the free skate, a quadruple lutz, prompting this immediate text from my friend at Skating Scores: “Oh god did u jinx it?”

I should note Chen went on to land cleanly four more quads, which would be utterly extraordinary for almost anyone but him. According to, only three other men, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno and China’s Boyang Jin, have ever done free skates with four or more “clean” (positive grade of execution) jumping passes that included a quad; of the 14 times that has happened, Chen accounts for seven.

With that in mind, I am going back here to the original idea, for which I had sought comments from some of the greatest skaters in history.

A few caveats:

*Figure skating excellence is not defined only by statistics showing an ability to reel off quadruple jumps, as the current and recent past great performances by quad-less athletes like Jason Brown and Misha Ge make abundantly clear. But since the sport switched 16 years ago to a numbers-intensive scoring system, it has – for better or for worse – generated mountains of statistics that can be fun to explore.

*Comparing Chen’s stats with anyone else’s (notably Hanyu’s) is tricky. Setting time period parameters is complicated.

*Letting someone like me who could never manually balance his checkbook deal with so many numbers is risky business. So thanks to for the stat fact checking.

Chen’s unbeaten streak, which includes the last two world titles and wins over Hanyu at the 2019 World Championships and 2019 Grand Prix Final, is an obvious period to look at his results.

In that time frame, two-time Olympic champion Hanyu has missed some events with injuries and this year’s sort-of Grand Prix season by choice.

Despite his unquestioned status as the greatest men’s skater of at least the past 69 years, Hanyu’s longest individual event win streak is four. But he has not finished lower than second in his last 29 individual competitions dating to a fourth at the 2014 NHK Trophy – winning 19 of them, including the two Olympic golds, two world titles and four Grand Prix Final titles.

So, even though I will make a couple numerical comparisons between the two men, it is probably better – and more accurate – to appreciate Chen’s impressive statistics during his win streak on their own merits.

“He’s just simply that good,” said 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano.

*Chen has now landed 120 jumps of all types without a fall, including 50 quadruple jumps, dating to the 2018 Grand Prix Final. (Hanyu has currently gone 17 jumps without a fall.)

“That is astounding,” said 1984 Olympic champion Scott Hamilton of Chen’s ability to stay upright. “Looking back on the many champions who have dominated our sport, difficulty and consistency are the two things they all have in common. Nathan has taken those qualities to a level no one could have predicted.”

*Of Chen’s 71 jumping passes with a quad during his win streak (not including two where he doubled a planned quad), 57 have been done cleanly, i.e., with a positive grade of execution. (Hanyu’s numbers on his last 71 jumping passes with a quad are equally striking: 51 have received positive GOE.)

“(Nathan) makes mere mortals out of the rest of us jumper types,” said four-time world champion Kurt Browning of Canada, whose quad toe loop at the 1988 World Championships is the first credited quad in competition.

To coach Tom Zakrajsek, who has been teaching quads for 20 years, the numbers not only show “impressive consistency” but also point out that even for accomplished practitioners like Chen and Hanyu, “quads are risky.”

Yet Chen does not back away from them, no matter the competition. He has twice attempted six in a free skate (with five of six clean the first time, at the 2018 Olympics, were he won the free but finished fifth overall, his last defeat; and four of six in the second, at the 2018 World Championships).

He has done two quads in all but one of the short programs during the win streak. In the 12 free skates, he has done six quads once, five twice, four five times and three the other four.

“You know me: I like to always challenge myself and one-up myself after every competition,” Chen said of his decision to try five in the free skate at the 2021 national meet.

Trying to put Chen’s prowess and commitment to quads into perspective, Browning noted how another accomplished jumper from the days before women did quads, 1998 Olympic champion Tara Lipinski, would do “10 to 12 triples a night” during Stars on Ice shows in Canada and “she missed (popped) just one in 12 shows.”

“I thought that was pretty cool,” Browning said, “but what Nathan has done over a longer period of time in a competitive environment with quads is… I don’t want to say ‘unbelievable,’ but with a wink I will say, ‘highly unrealistic.’”

Nathan Chen’s skating clearly has augmented reality.

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

Helen Maroulis stars in wrestling documentary, with help from Chris Pratt

Helen Maroulis, Chris Pratt

One of the remarkable recent Olympic comeback stories is the subject of a film that will be shown nationwide in theaters for one day only on Thursday.

“Helen | Believe” is a documentary about Helen Maroulis, the first U.S. Olympic women’s wrestling champion. Showing details are here.

After taking gold at the 2016 Rio Games, Maroulis briefly retired in 2019 during a two-year stretch in which she dealt with concussions and post-traumatic stress disorder. The film focuses on that period and her successful bid to return and qualify for the Tokyo Games, where she took bronze.

In a poignant moment in the film, Maroulis described her “rock bottom” — being hospitalized for suicidal ideations.

In an interview, Maroulis said she was first approached about the project in 2018, the same year she had her first life-changing concussion that January. A wrestling partner’s mother was connected to director Dylan Mulick.

Maroulis agreed to the film in part to help spread mental health awareness in sports. Later, she cried while watching the 2020 HBO film, “The Weight of Gold,” on the mental health challenges that other Olympians faced, because it resonated with her so much.

“When you’re going through something, it sometimes gives you an anchor of hope to know that someone’s been through it before, and they’ve overcome it,” she said.

Maroulis’ comeback story hit a crossroads at the Olympic trials in April 2021, where the winner of a best-of-three finals series in each weight class made Team USA.

Maroulis won the opening match against Jenna Burkert, but then lost the second match. Statistically, a wrestler who loses the second match in a best-of-three series usually loses the third. But Maroulis pinned Burkert just 22 seconds into the rubber match to clinch the Olympic spot.

Shen then revealed that she tore an MCL two weeks earlier.

“They told me I would have to be in a brace for six weeks,” she said then. “I said, ‘I don’t have that. I have two and a half.’”

Maroulis said she later asked the director what would have happened if she didn’t make the team for Tokyo. She was told the film still have been done.

“He had mentioned this isn’t about a sports story or sports comeback story,” Maroulis said. “This is about a human story. And we’re using wrestling as the vehicle to tell this story of overcoming and healing and rediscovering oneself.”

Maroulis said she was told that, during filming, the project was pitched to the production company of actor Chris Pratt, who wrestled in high school in Washington. Pratt signed on as a producer.

“Wrestling has made an impact on his life, and so he wants to support these kinds of stories,” said Maroulis, who appeared at last month’s Santa Barbara Film Festival with Pratt.

Pratt said he knew about Maroulis before learning about the film, which he said “needed a little help to get it over the finish line,” according to a public relations company promoting the film.

The film also highlights the rest of the six-woman U.S. Olympic wrestling team in Tokyo. Four of the six won a medal, including Tamyra Mensah-Stock‘s gold.

“I was excited to be part of, not just (Maroulis’) incredible story, but also helping to further advance wrestling and, in particular, female wrestling,” Pratt said, according to responses provided by the PR company from submitted questions. “To me, the most compelling part of Helen’s story is the example of what life looks like after a person wins a gold medal. The inevitable comedown, the trauma around her injuries, the PTSD, the drive to continue that is what makes her who she is.”

Maroulis, who now trains in Arizona, hopes to qualify for this year’s world championships and next year’s Olympics.

“I try to treat every Games as my last,” she said. “Now I’m leaning toward being done [after 2024], but never say never.”

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IOC recommends how Russia, Belarus athletes can return as neutrals

Thomas Bach

The IOC updated its recommendations to international sports federations regarding Russian and Belarusian athletes, advising that they can return to competitions outside of the Olympics as neutral athletes in individual events and only if they do not actively support the war in Ukraine. Now, it’s up to those federations to decide if and how they will reinstate the athletes as 2024 Olympic qualifying heats up.

The IOC has not made a decision on the participation of Russian or Belarusian athletes for the Paris Games and will do so “at the appropriate time,” IOC President Thomas Bach said Tuesday.

Most international sports federations for Olympic sports banned Russian and Belarusian athletes last year following IOC recommendations to do so after the invasion of Ukraine.

Bach was asked Tuesday what has changed in the last 13 months that led to the IOC updating its recommendations.

He reiterated previous comments that, after the invasion and before the initial February 2022 recommendations, some governments refused to issue visas for Russians and Belarusians to compete, and other governments threatened withdrawing funding from athletes who competed against Russians and Belarusians. He also said the safety of Russians and Belarusians at competitions was at risk at the time.

Bach said that Russians and Belarusians have been competing in sports including tennis, the NHL and soccer (while not representing their countries) and that “it’s already working.”

“The question, which has been discussed in many of these consultations, is why should what is possible in all these sports not be possible in swimming, table tennis, wrestling or any other sport?” Bach said.

Bach then read a section of remarks that a United Nations cultural rights appointee made last week.

“We have to start from agreeing that these states [Russia and Belarus] are going to be excluded,” Bach read, in part. “The issue is what happens with individuals. … The blanket prohibition of Russian and Belarusian athletes and artists cannot continue. It is a flagrant violation of human rights. The idea is not that we are going to recognize human rights to people who are like us and with whom we agree on their actions and on their behavior. The idea is that anyone has the right not to be discriminated on the basis of their passport.”

The IOC’s Tuesday recommendations included not allowing “teams of athletes” from Russia and Belarus to return.

If Russia continues to be excluded from team sports and team events, it could further impact 2024 Olympic qualification.

The international basketball federation (FIBA) recently set an April 28 deadline to decide whether to allow Russia to compete in an Olympic men’s qualifying tournament. For women’s basketball, the draw for a European Olympic qualifying tournament has already been made without Russia.

In gymnastics, the ban has already extended long enough that, under current rules, Russian gymnasts cannot qualify for men’s and women’s team events at the Paris Games, but can still qualify for individual events if the ban is lifted.

Gymnasts from Russia swept the men’s and women’s team titles in Tokyo, where Russians in all sports competed for the Russian Olympic Committee rather than for Russia due to punishment for the nation’s doping violations. There were no Russian flags or anthems, conditions that the IOC also recommends for any return from the current ban for the war in Ukraine.

Seb Coe, the president of World Athletics, said last week that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned from track and field for the “foreseeable future.”

World Aquatics, the international governing body for swimming, diving and water polo, said after the IOC’s updated recommendations that it will continue to “consider developments impacting the situation” of Russian and Belarusian athletes and that “further updates will be provided when appropriate.”

The IOC’s sanctions against Russia and Belarus and their governments remain in place, including disallowing international competitions to be held in those countries.

On Monday, Ukraine’s sports minister said in a statement that Ukraine “strongly urges” that Russian and Belarusian athletes remain banned.

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