Three-time world champion Nathan Chen has gone back to the programs that produced his career best scores.
They are the short program to Charles Aznavour’s version of “La Bohème” and the free skate to an Elton John medley that Chen used in the 2019-20 season, which ended prematurely when the onset of the Covid pandemic forced cancellation of the 2020 World Championships in Montreal.
At the 2019 Grand Prix Final, Chen’s short program to the Aznavour earned him a personal best 110.38 points. With the Elton John free skate at that event, Chen scored a world record 224.92 for a world record total of 335.30.
Chen was to revisit them for the first time competitively at this season’s Grand Prix Final two weeks ago, but it was cancelled because of complications related to the new Covid variant. So the revival now is likely to come at the 2022 U.S. Championships, in which Chen will seek a sixth straight title in a men’s competition that begins Jan. 8.
Chen coyly said “yeah, probably” when asked in a Monday media Zoom call if he would use the 2019-20 programs at nationals. “Further on in the season, still TBD (to be determined),” he added.
He had not seemed comfortable with this season’s programs, each of which had a cut-and-paste feeling, and Chen’s performances to them were underwhelming by his standards: a third place at Skate America, his first loss since the 2018 Olympics, and an easy if unremarkable victory at Skate Canada.
The short, to music by Benjamin Clementine, tacked part of his signature “Nemesis” program from 2018 onto the end of “Eternity,” a piece of music new to his skating repertoire.
The free skate was a Mozart medley all new to him, but it finished with a jarring segue from Mozart’s version of the mournful Lacrimosa section in his Requiem to a hip-hop Apashe remix of the Lacrimosa.
Neither program resonated the way Chen and his team had hoped in this Olympic season.
“Just the connection,” Chen said of the reason for changing. “Every time you get to perform a program, you know whether or not it makes sense, feels right. The programs felt a little off. That’s not to say it might not feel off in the future, but there are other programs I feel more connected to.”
There is also hip-hop in the final 30 seconds of the Elton John program, which was choreographed by ice dance coach Marie-France Dubreuil and Samuel Chouinard, her collaborator at the renowned Ice Academy of Montreal.
Shae-Lynn Bourne, an ice dance world champion, choreographed the “La Bohème” program. She also did both of the programs Chen used earlier this season as well as the signature “Nemesis” program and the programs with which he won a third straight world title last season.
This will be the first time in Chen’s six seasons at the senior international level that he has re-used entire old programs. This season’s previous short program was the first time he had re-used any part of an old program.
“My coach and choreographer and I agreed that you need to have something new and different and something you find enjoyment in doing, but it also has to be something you are genuinely so comfortable in doing,” Chen told me before Skate America. “It’s not necessarily worth the risk to do something completely different that you don’t have any experience with.”
The “La Bohème” program has particular resonance for Chen’s coach, Rafael Arutunian, since both he and Aznavour are of Armenian descent.
“I really like the 2019-2020 programs,” Chen said. “I never got the chance to compete them at worlds.”
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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