Meryl Davis

AP

Yale student and world champion Nathan Chen finds time for Stars on Ice

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NEW YORK (AP) — Somehow, in the midst of his freshman season at Yale, Nathan Chen has found time to escape the classroom and the study hall and the tests.

All he’s done since becoming an Ivy Leaguer is win the Grand Prix Final, a third straight U.S. figure skating championship, and repeat as world champion. Yale might have a strong hockey team, but Chen’s hat trick can’t be matched by any of the Bulldogs.

Chen chuckles when asked about achieving so much while also carrying a hefty workload in school.

“It is challenging,” he says, “but I knew it would be.”

And now that the competitive season is over — Chen helped the United States to a first-place finish in a world team event last weekend — he can have some downtime, right?

Well, he could. Instead, he’s fitting in appearances with the Stars on Ice tour, which launches Thursday night in Fort Myers, Florida. He will, however, skip some stops on the 13-city tour to take class finals. He is, after all, a full-time student.

“It will be a challenge because of exams and other things, but most of the shows are East Coast- based and I can travel to school and back to the show,” he says. “Yeah, I am taking a gap for finals, but ultimately (the grind) is not too much of a concern.

“It’s really nice that we have so many top skaters in Stars on Ice, so I am not part of the cast this year based on my schedules. It would definitely impact the cast if they had to take me out of some (routines). It’s a better idea to do my numbers separately. Besides, with all they have accomplished, they are a great cast.”

That includes 2014 Olympic champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue.

Still, the fact Chen, who turns 20 next month, is participating on the tour after a full season of competition and the Yale workload is somewhat astounding.

But he’s worked out a regimen for practices in New Haven, chats “all the time” with coach Rafael Arutunian, and really hasn’t missed a beat — or a quad — since his fiasco of a short program at the 2018 Olympics that likely cost him a medal.

Chen has been a winner at everything he has entered since the PyeongChang Games, where his outsized performance in the free skate nearly overshadowed the medalists as he rallied to finish fifth.

“Anytime there is no Olympics, it’s a completely different situation,” he says. “For the Olympics, there is a buildup to the Games for four years. And it’s even more evident when you are thinking about that specific Olympics in that year. Now is the time to be improving, there’s less fine-tuning, more bold improvement and we’ve been able to achieve a lot of that this year. Ultimately, I am really happy with the season.”

The 2018-19 was highlighted by a pressure-packed showing by Chen at worlds in Japan last month. Leading after the short program, he was scheduled on the ice just after national hero Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion. Hanyu was sensational; Chen cracked that the fans’ celebration after Hanyu’s routine — they throw Winnie The Pooh dolls onto the ice — featured “more Pooh Bears than I knew existed. It was incredible to see so many Pooh Bears on the ice.”

Chen didn’t crack in his skating, though, and easily skated off with gold.

“It was awesome,” he says. “It’s really nice to be able to see that number of people really enjoy the sport the athletes love so much. The reception was insane. Stepping on the ice, it is a little breathtaking to see all those people in a triple-decker rink, filling so many seats and making so much noise.

“I was able to feel that energy from the audience and that they were expecting or wanting a good performance out of me.”

He delivered, becoming the first American since 1984 to repeat as men’s world champ. The last was Scott Hamilton, who coincidentally founded Stars on Ice.

Reminded of that connection, Chen noted that “Scott won four in a row. I have a ways to go.”

MORE: By any measure, Nathan Chen’s performance at Worlds matches standard for transcendent greatness

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2018-19 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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Figure Skating in Detroit unites Olympians, opportunity and life skills for young girls

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By Colton Wood

DETROIT – Leading up to Martin Luther King Jr. Day this year, 8-year-old Karrington Mitchell watched a video on the celebrated civil rights activist at her school in Detroit.

“I was learning about him,” Mitchell said, “so I had two dreams: I have a dream that one day I could become the most greatest [figure] skater in the whole, entire universe. And my second dream was: I have a dream that one day I can help the homeless and for cancer to get better, so they don’t have to fight for it and then their parents are in tears because they don’t feel so bad.”

The Beginning

When Mitchell was 6, her grandmother introduced her to figure skating.

Mitchell had no knowledge of the sport and even had to ask her grandmother what ice skates were.

That same year, in 2017, Mitchell became one of the original participants of the newly-started organization Figure Skating in Detroit, which is a spinoff of the famed foundation Figure Skating in Harlem that gives girls of color the combination of education and access to the artistic discipline of figure skating.

“I didn’t know how to skate,” she said. “I was sad because I always fell on my butt. It hurt; very painful, very painful. I didn’t really know how to stop at the moment. I fell a lot.”

The constant inability to stay up on her skates led to Mitchell initially thinking she wanted to hang up her skates forever.

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“I didn’t really like it at first, so I told my grandmother, ‘I don’t want to go to figure skating anymore.’ But when it was a new year, they taught me new things. I still did fall, but I started getting better at it.”

While teaching the girls enrolled in the program how to figure skate, FSD, the first chapter of FSH, seeks to help girls transform their lives and grow in their confidence, leadership and academic achievement.

This month, the U.S. Figure Skating Championships came to Detroit, marking the first time nationals came to the “Motor City” since 1994.

With nationals in Detroit, it gave FSD the chance to promote its organization to a national audience.

“I’m really happy for the nationals because they get to skate,” said Mitchell, who has aspirations of becoming a figure skating coach. “Even though I’m not in nationals and other people aren’t, either, doesn’t mean they don’t think our skating is good.”

Spreading to Detroit

When Sharon Cohen, founder of FSH and mother of 2006 Olympic silver medalist Sasha Cohen, expressed interest in expanding her organization, she reached out to three-time Olympic medalist Meryl Davis.

Davis, a Michigan native, worked diligently to convince Cohen that Detroit was the right city to expand to.

That hard work soon paid off, as Cohen chose Detroit from a narrowed list of around five other cities.

“Detroit is really unique because there is a need for a program like this,” Davis told NBCSports.com/figure-skating. “There’s also a really strong figure skating community here… The combination of the need but also some of the resources was unique, so I think that’s a big part of what convinced her that Detroit was the right place to have this program.”

When Cohen told Davis she was going to pick Detroit, Davis, 32, was ecstatic.

She quickly introduced Cohen to the Michigan figure skating community. American ice dancer Jerod Swallow was among the countless number of people Davis, who is now an honorary co-chair of FSD, introduced Cohen to.

Swallow, Davis said, has been an instrumental part to the early success of FSD.

“We’re only in our second full year of Figure Skating in Detroit,” Davis said. “A lot of wonderful things have already happened. We have so much ahead of us. It’s really exciting.”

Though FSD teaches its participants the art of figure skating, its goal isn’t necessarily to tell them that FSD will make them an Olympic figure skater.

“Our goal is to say, ‘The lessons you learn here on the ice will help you figure out [what you want to do with your life] no matter what you do,’” Davis said.

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A Success Story

Harlem, New York, native Florence Ngala received a flyer in 2001 that changed her life forever.

The flyer, which showcased the FSH organization, enticed a young Ngala, then 6.

Ngala enrolled in the program shortly thereafter and was a participant until she turned 18.

Now 23, Ngala is a photographer for the New York Times and famous American rapper Cardi B.

After speaking at a private event in Detroit during the U.S. Championships, Ngala said she credits her success to FSH.

“I’ve benefited so much as a former skater and alumna,” Ngala said. “I would just love to see in five years from now, 10 years from now, these girls [in the program] going on to do whatever they want to do.”

Ngala understands her success in life has led to her becoming a role model for those who are following in her footsteps at FSH and FSD, something she said is beautiful to see.

“I think, ultimately,” Ngala said, “girls should just believe they can go on and do whatever they want to do.”

Ngala, who made her first-ever trip to Detroit this month for nationals, believes the U.S. Championships coming to Michigan will help build the legacy of FSD.

“It really is a benefit for both parties,” she said. “It’s only year two of Figure Skating in Detroit existing as a program. The U.S. Figure Skating Championships being here is very serendipitous. It’s awesome.”

MORE: Skaters’ ties to Detroit add local flavor to U.S. Championships

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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U.S. Championships reporters’ notebook: Day 1

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Our figure skating team is on the ground in Detroit to cover the U.S. Championships. This is our behind-the-scenes look at the competition on the first day.

Biechler trades Rhumbas for Lutzes

When Julia Biechler competed at the U.S. Championships last season, her biggest challenge was hitting the key points in the Rhumba pattern of her short dance.

In Detroit, the 20-year-old skater is grappling with triple Lutz combinations.

“I fell out of love with ice dance, personally,” Biechler, who sits 17th after Thursday’s ladies’ short program, said. “I always wanted to do freestyle, just by myself.”

It’s not uncommon for singles’ skaters to take up pairs later in their careers; occasionally, they switch to ice dance. But ice dancers who convert to singles are a rare breed.

“I was a senior-level international ice dancer with Damian Dodge for seven years, competing on the Junior Grand Prix and at B-level senior internationals,” said Biechler. “Then we didn’t see eye-to-eye on some things anymore, and I decided to give singles my full focus.”

Biechler began training singles only in February 2018. She admits she has some catch-up work to do on jumps, including triple-triple combinations, but also thinks competing ice dance all those years has its advantages.

“A lot of the girls at this level have all of the jumps, and now they work on getting flow into the jumps, and the transitions, more of the second mark,” Biechler said. “I don’t have to work on that as much as they do, because of my ice dance background. For me, it’s just jump repetition, jump repetition, jump repetition.”

Viktor Pfeifer, who coaches Biechler in Wilmington, Delaware, thinks her story is inspiring.

“It helps the kids around her to have a freestyle skater understand the artistry and the edges at a very high level,” he said. “They all look up to her for her work ethic. She is now 20 years old, and she’s improving and improving. It’s nice to see for other athletes that even if you can’t do all your triples at 13 or 14, it’s not all over.”

Spreading the message

Figure Skating in Detroit held a private event on Thursday at Little Caesars Arena that featured a series of speakers and showcased the organization in front of donors, local skaters and several prominent skaters in the realm of figure skating.

The organization, a spinoff of Figure Skating in Harlem, which gives girls of color the combination of education and access to the artistic discipline of figure skating, was founded in 2017 and is the first chapter of FSH.

Among the speakers were 2014 Olympic gold medalist Meryl Davis, Founder and CEO of FSD Sharon Cohen and FSH alumna Florence Ngala.

Figure skating icon Scott Hamilton, a 1984 Olympic gold medalist, was also in attendance.

MORE: Scott Hamilton CARES Foundation brings skating stars to Detroit ahead of U.S. Championships

“I, Tonya”

Heidi Munger is used to performing in front of highly-experienced judges and skaters.

But in 2017, Munger spent a part of that year skating for a collection of producers, directors and actors who had no extensive knowledge of figure skating.

Munger, a sophomore biology major at Boston University, was given the opportunity to be a stunt double for actress Margot Robbie in the film “I, Tonya,” which centered around disgraced figure skater Tonya Harding.

“It was very nerve-wracking,” Munger said. “I would always get butterflies while competing, but I never got really nervous or anything. And then, all of a sudden, they’re like, ‘Go do a double Axel.’ I’m like, ‘Oh, my God.’”

Munger, 22, said the pressure she experienced during the filming of the movie gave her the motivation to continue to skate and compete.

“If I could do that and handle that,” Munger said, “skating competitively would be easier and I would enjoy it more.”

Munger finished 15th in the ladies’ short program at the U.S. Championships on Thursday night in what was her second-ever appearance at nationals.

The Worcester, Mass., native will be back on the ice Friday night for the ladies’ free skate.

MORE: Remembering the attack on Nancy Kerrigan at the figure skating national championships 25 years ago

Lego replica

Detroit’s LEGOLAND created a life-size Lego replica of the championship trophy throughout December and January. It was displayed at Little Caesars Arena, the site of the U.S. Championships. Check out the video of how it was made:

Stories compiled by Lynn Rutherford, Rachel Lutz, and Colton Wood.

MORE: Mariah Bell keeps getting better, but if you ask her, it’s just the start

As a reminder, you can watch the U.S. Championships live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Go to NBCsports.com/gold/figure-skating to sign up for access to every ISU Grand Prix and championship event, as well as domestic U.S. Figure Skating events throughout the season. NBC Sports Gold gives subscribers an unprecedented level of access on more platforms and devices than ever before.

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