Nathan Chen’s coach, Rafael Arutunian, was not able to be at Chen’s side for Saturday’s free skate after Arutunian had his Skate Canada accreditation revoked for his inadvertent Friday violation of Covid-19 protocols at the event.
Reached by phone Saturday as he went for a PCR test so he could leave Canada immediately after the free skate, Arutunian said he would watch Chen from the spectator seats. Chen won Friday’s short program to take a 12-point lead into the free, which he also won easily.
“Nathan told me, ‘If you want to leave right away, it’s OK, I will take care of myself,’” Arutunian said.
Arutunian said he violated the protocol because of a lack of signage at a point where he had to decide which way to turn. He wound up in spectator seats, which are outside the bubble that skaters and coaches are required to stay within.
“Skate Canada International was organized under strict COVID-19 protocols, which required the hotel, transportation and venue areas only accessed by skaters and coaches to operate in a `bubble’ environment. Unfortunately, Mr. Arutyunan inadvertently exited the bubble while at the competition venue and as such was not eligible to re-enter,” Skate Canada spokesperson Amanda Speroni told NBCSports.com via email.
“It is a regrettable situation and one that we tried to avoid, but once an individual exits the bubble they cannot re-enter, otherwise the integrity of the entire COVID-19 protocol would be jeopardized.”
Arutunian said his problems, first reported by Russian journalist Elena Vaytsekhovskaya, began when he was on his way back to the “bubble hotel,” and ice dance coach Igor Shpilband asked him to stay and give feedback on his team, Diana Davis and Gleb Smolkin.
Arutunian said he went the wrong way because there were no indications he was leaving the bubble. He said a sign has been added since to make sure no one else makes the same mistake.
Speroni did not reply immediately to a question about the signage.
“In this case, what went down was appropriate,” Chen said after the competition. “It was reasonable to adhere to the bubble protocol to keep us all safe.
“That being said, I’m glad he was still able to be in the arena and that he was able to give me a quick call before I stepped on the ice.”
As he tried to explain what had happened to officials of the International Skating Union, Arutunian said ISU figure skating event coordinator Wieland Lueders began “almost yelling” at him to get out of the bubble area.
The ISU did not respond immediately to an email seeking comment.
“I am angry and disappointed,” Arutunian said. “I have tried to calm down but I cannot. I definitely want an apology from them (ISU).
“I totally understand the need for them (Covid protocols). I have no problem with that at all. What I don’t understand is people tried to make me guilty for going the wrong direction when there was nothing telling me which way to go.”
Arutunian thanked U.S. Figure Skating for quickly arranging a room in a non-bubble building of the hotel. He also thanked Skate Canada for arranging a driver to get him to the PCR test.
He watched Chen’s Saturday morning practice from the spectator area. He expects to talk to Chen by telephone right before the free skate. Arutunian had planned to leave Canada Sunday morning.
“U.S. Figure Skating has nothing to add to what Skate Canada said in its statement,” USFS spokesman Michael Terry said via text.
Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.
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