In return to Yale, Nathan Chen goes back to his future

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When Nathan Chen returns to Yale late this summer after a two-year leave of absence, his housing arrangement will make Chen think he is going back to the future.

“I feel like I’m a returning first-year,” said Chen, actually a rising junior.

He has a room on Yale’s Old Campus, where the residence halls are primarily occupied by first-year students. It is where he lived the first time around after matriculating in the 2018-19 academic year.

The difference this time is Chen also wants to feel present on campus in a way he could not during his first two years of college, when he jammed studies and an international figure skating career into days that seemed too short.

He wants to find a fun extracurricular activity or two that aren’t related to skating. He wants to take guitar lessons.

Chen, majoring in statistics and data science, wants to focus more on his classes, to “make sure the learning is truly, truly ingrained in me rather than trying to get quickly through it, just doing well enough to get through exams.”

And, Chen added, he would also like to be more engaged with other students.

“Making friends,” he said. “I didn’t get too much of a chance to do that.”

That is why he wanted to live on campus again even though, at 23, he will be five years older than many of the students in rooms near him. His original class, Yale ’22, is graduating this week.

And it is why the reigning Olympic champion is unlikely to compete during his final two years at Yale (and perhaps ever again), even as he says his skating future remains uncertain. He does expect to skate “more days than not,” but he said that likely will be mainly on public sessions at the Yale rink.

Asked if there were any chance he would compete next season, which begins in the fall, Chen answered, “I don’t think next season.” Asked if there was a decent chance he would compete again after graduation, he said, “I have no idea. I’m really happy with the things I have already accomplished.”

Who wouldn’t be, with an Olympic singles gold medal, two Olympic team event medals, three world titles, six straight national titles and landmark jumping achievements?

Truth be told, Chen has been so busy with his post-Olympic life, first as a celebrity talk show guest, then with Stars on Ice in Japan, now as the headliner on the 24-city Stars on Ice U.S. tour that runs through May 29, that he has found little time to think about anything beyond the next day’s schedule.

(There was also an unscheduled five-day quarantine on Long Island, New York, after Chen contracted Covid. Because the tour dates are nearly all on weekends, he did not miss any shows but was unable to join the 2021 and 2022 U.S. Olympic teams for their White House visit.)

Speaking via FaceTime last Friday before the Stars show in Grand Rapids, Michigan, Chen said he has yet to talk with U.S. Figure Skating about whether he wants to be considered for this year’s Grand Prix Series. Two USFS officials told NBC Sports the deadline for athletes to inform the federation has not yet been set.

Chen also said he had not even spoken to his coach, Rafael Arutunian, since the Olympics.

“After Stars on Ice is over, it will be great to talk to Raf to see what he thinks, what I think, what my parents think, what my family thinks – and then kind of go from there,” Chen said.

When Stars ends, Chen will have a month before his next skating commitment, four “Dreams on Ice” shows in Yokohama, Japan, in early July. He will be back in Japan in late July for a nine-show, three-city tour called “The Ice.” The other major item on his agenda for the summer is a Hawaii vacation with his parents and four siblings, one of whom, Tony, lives on Oahu.

“As a family, we’ve never gone on a vacation,” Chen said.

He and his mother, Hetty Wang, have lived apart from their family base in Salt Lake City since Chen began working with Arutunian in southern California some 12 years ago. They will no longer have a California residence at the end of the summer, when he leaves for Yale, and his mother goes back to Utah.

“If something happens, and I want to train in California, I can always go back and stay with Mariah (Bell) or Michal Brezina,” he said. “That would only be for a couple weeks during (school) breaks.”

During his first two years at college, Chen bridged the 3,000-mile distance to Arutunian mainly with video sessions. He moved back to California the past two seasons to focus solely on skating.

Chen insisted his Stars on Ice experience has been little different as Olympic champion from what it was four years earlier, when he had finished fifth in the 2018 Olympics.

“I’m a little later in the show,” he said, in characteristic understatement, of the tour recognizing his change in stature.

He does two individual numbers, one with the Elton John music used in his Olympic free skate. When the Stars on Ice cast went to John’s concert in Greensboro, North Carolina, last month, the legendary musician gave Chen a shout-out.

“I was just so honored he chose my song,” John said.

“That was crazy,” Chen said of John’s acknowledgement.

Among other perks from winning gold: the acclaimed guitar making company Paul Reed Smith recently gifted Chen an electric. (“One of their employees who was a figure skater saw I was really into guitar and reached out to ask if I would like one of theirs,” Chen explained.)

And, coinciding with Wednesday’s tour show in Salt Lake City, the Utah governor, Spencer Cox, has declared it “Nathan Chen Day” in the state. That was to include honoring Chen in a ceremony at the State Capitol chamber.

For Chen, the best part of winning the gold medal was giving it to his mother in a surprise reunion between them on the “TODAY” show after he returned from Beijing.

“(It was) for the work she helped me with over many, many years,” he said. “It resulted in the goal we both really wanted.”

He won gold in a runaway with some of the greatest skating in Olympic history. It began with his performance in the team event short program, continued with his record score in the individual short program and ended with a free skate that included five clean quadruple jumps and one blip, a watered-down final jump of a combination.

Chen said he generally does not re-watch his skating. He has made an exception for the 2022 Olympic short programs, which did more than exorcise demons from botching them both at the 2018 Olympics. He had fresher doubts to deal with, related to his combination jump, a quad lutz-triple toe.

“I was struggling so much on the lutz-toe in training (for a couple months),” Chen said. “I would go into the jump, fall, go into the jump, fall. I had repetition after repetition of the short program not being able to hit it. That engendered a lot of worry over my preparation for the Olympics.”

Chen hit the combination both times in the Beijing competitions, becoming the first skater to land it in the second half bonus area of an international short program. That is why he has found it compelling to watch the programs again. That is why after the second short program the usually self-contained Chen gave a powerful fist pump, a public display of emotion he called, “Unconventional for me.”

“I’m able to generate so much pride for that because I know how hard it was to get to that point,” he said.

For four years, Chen had been motivated by the desire not only to compete again at the Olympics but to give himself a good shot at the gold medal. What he did in Beijing will be forever present in Chen’s life, but it already is also in the past. Right now he is excited to play the new guitar.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at every Winter Olympics since 1980, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com.

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Elena Fanchini, medal-winning Alpine skier, dies at 37

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Italian skier Elena Fanchini, whose career was cut short by a tumor, has died. She was 37.

Fanchini passed away Wednesday at her home in Solato, near Brescia, the Italian Winter Sports Federation announced.

Fanchini died on the same day that fellow Italian Marta Bassino won the super-G at the world championships in Meribel, France; and two days after Federica Brignone — another former teammate — claimed gold in combined.

Sofia Goggia, who is the favorite for Saturday’s downhill, dedicated her win in Cortina d’Ampezzo last month to Fanchini.

Fanchini last raced in December 2017. She was cleared to return to train nearly a year later but never made it fully back, and her condition grew worse in recent months.

Fanchini won a silver medal in downhill at the 2005 World Championships and also won two World Cup races in her career — both in downhill.

She missed the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics because of her condition.

Fanchini’s younger sisters Nadia and Sabrina were also World Cup racers.

USA Boxing to skip world championships

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USA Boxing will not send boxers to this year’s men’s and women’s world championships, citing “the ongoing failures” of the IBA, the sport’s international governing body, that put boxing’s place on the Olympic program at risk.

The Washington Post first reported the decision.

In a letter to its members, USA Boxing Executive Director Mike McAtee listed many factors that led to the decision, including IBA governance issues, financial irregularities and transparency and that Russian and Belarusian boxers are allowed to compete with their flags.

IBA lifted its ban on Russian and Belarusian boxers in October and said it would allow their flags and anthems to return, too.

The IOC has not shifted from its recommendation to international sports federations last February that Russian and Belarusian athletes be barred, though the IOC and Olympic sports officials have been exploring whether those athletes could return without national symbols.

USA Boxing said that Russian boxers have competed at an IBA event in Morocco this month with their flags and are expected to compete at this year’s world championships under their flags.

“While sport is intended to be politically neutral, many boxers, coaches and other representatives of the Ukrainian boxing community were killed as a result of the Russian aggression against Ukraine, including coach Mykhaylo Korenovsky who was killed when a Russian missile hit an apartment block in January 2023,” according to the USA Boxing letter. “Ukraine’s sports infrastructure, including numerous boxing gyms, has been devastated by Russian aggression.”

McAtee added later that USA Boxing would still not send athletes to worlds even if Russians and Belarusians were competing as neutrals and without their flags.

“USA Boxing’s decision is based on the ‘totality of all of the factors,'” he said in an emailed response. “Third party oversite and fairness in the field of play is the most important factor.”

A message has been sent to the IBA seeking comment on USA Boxing’s decision.

The women’s world championships are in March in India. The men’s world championships are in May in Uzbekistan. They do not count toward 2024 Olympic qualifying.

In December, the IOC said recent IBA decisions could lead to “the cancellation of boxing” for the 2024 Paris Games.

Some of the already reported governance issues led to the IOC stripping IBA — then known as AIBA — of its Olympic recognition in 2019. AIBA had suspended all 36 referees and judges used at the 2016 Rio Olympics pending an investigation into a possible judging scandal, one that found that some medal bouts were fixed by “complicit and compliant” referees and judges.

The IOC ran the Tokyo Olympic boxing competition.

Boxing was not included on the initial program for the 2028 Los Angeles Games announced in December 2021, though it could still be added. The IBA must address concerns “around its governance, its financial transparency and sustainability and the integrity of its refereeing and judging processes,” IOC President Thomas Bach said then.

This past June, the IOC said IBA would not run qualifying competitions for the 2024 Paris Games.

In September, the IOC said it was “extremely concerned” about the Olympic future of boxing after an IBA extraordinary congress overwhelmingly backed Russian Umar Kremlev to remain as its president rather than hold an election.

Kremlev was re-elected in May after an opponent, Boris van der Vorst of the Netherlands, was barred from running against him. The Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled in June that van der Vorst should have been eligible to run against Kremlev, but the IBA group still decided not to hold a new election.

Last May, Rashida Ellis became the first U.S. woman to win a world boxing title at an Olympic weight since Claressa Shields in 2016, taking the 60kg lightweight crown in Istanbul. In Tokyo, Ellis lost 3-0 in her opening bout in her Olympic debut.

At the last men’s worlds in 2021, Robby Gonzales and Jahmal Harvey became the first U.S. men to win an Olympic or world title since 2007, ending the longest American men’s drought since World War II.

The Associated Press and NBC Olympic research contributed to this report.

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