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Karen Chen wants to make the most of her ‘comeback year’

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LAS VEGAS — A few weeks before Skate America, Karen Chen texted her longtime coach, Tammy Gambill, that she wasn’t getting too much sleep.

“Welcome to college,” Gambill texted back.

It’s not that Gambill was unsympathetic.  She’s just seen it all before.

“That’s just part of the process I think they all have to go through,” Gambill said.

By the time Chen arrived in Las Vegas, she was battling not just sleep deprivation, but a cold. Again, Gambill wasn’t surprised.

“I think this is the first time Karen has been sick since going to college,” she said. “It was going to be inevitable at some point.”

Chen, 20, has a lot going on this fall. She’s immersed in her classes at Cornell University in Ithaca, New York, where she’s majoring in human development. She’s training every morning, on her own, at a rink that’s a 10- to 15-minute drive from campus. And she’s making an admittedly stressful return to competition, after missing last season due to a stress fracture in her right foot.

So much so, that when she took the ice at the Orleans Arena on Friday, her legs felt shaky.

“It was a little scary, not going to lie,” she told reporters after her short program. “It was definitely something new to me. But regardless, I know this is what I want to do. I love competing. I just want to feel comfortable out there again.”

Chen performed a solid program, earning 66.03 points for sixth place. She didn’t hit a triple Lutz, triple toe, the combination that helped her win the U.S. title in 2017, substituting a triple-double. But she felt her competitive juices flow. (In Saturday’s free skate, she appeared fatigued and fell three times to finish eighth overall.)

“It was definitely a step in the right direction,” she said after the short.

That’s how Chen is constructing her school-and-skating balancing act: step by step.

“At first, it was just getting used to the new environment,” she said. “After that, I kind of got into a routine. Although I’m definitely busy all the time and it’s a lot of work, I love it. I’m making great new friends. I’m getting through my classes.”

Chen left for Ithaca straight from U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp, held in Irvine, California in late August. The departure was bittersweet.

“It was hard for me to leave,” she said. “Not necessarily to leave the whole skating world, but to leave Tammy and my training mates and go off by myself.”

It was also challenging logistically. Officials at Champs Camp recommended some changes to her free skate, choreographed by Ilona Melnichenko to “Illumination” by Secret Garden. Chen made the tweaks, but with her first competition, a Challenger Series’ event in Canada, scheduled for Sept. 12-14, she didn’t have much time to, in her words, let the changes “marinate in my body.”

Back at Cornell, organizing her class schedule took precedence.

“I definitely had to figure it out,” Chen said. “At first, I was thinking, ‘I can definitely do five classes, it’s no big deal.’ Then I was talking to my friends taking five classes, and they’re like, ‘It’s really hard.’ And I thought, ‘Yeah, it’s really hard, and I also have to skate.’”

So Chen pared down to four, still a full-time course load. Three – Infancy and Childhood, Adulthood and Aging, and Psychology of Gender – are in her major. She’s also taking the required freshman writing seminar.

“Definitely the professors that I have, have been very, very helpful,” Chen said. “I’ve told them ahead of time, ‘This is my competition schedule, this is when I’m going to be out.’ Thankfully, it doesn’t conflict with any of my prelims or any exams.”

Communication lines are also open to U.S. Figure Skating, for help with things like locating physical therapists in the Ithaca area. And Gambill is just a text, or a video, away.

“I get some little blurbs of video,” Gambill said. “It’s hard for her to send me full tapes of things, because there is really no one at the rink to help her. She’ll set (the recorder) it on the wall.”

Chen is making it work. Cornell’s academic schedule allowed her to return to Colorado Springs to train in high altitude with Gambill for five days, which helped. The coach has said she may visit Ithaca for occasional tune-ups with her student.

“This is my comeback year and I want to make it count,” Chen said. “At the same time, I know that I’m throwing a lot of things out there. It’s been tough balancing, but I do really enjoy everything and I think I made the right decision.”

MORE ON: Bradie Tennell | Nathan Chen | Jason Brown

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 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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Anna Shcherbakova lands two quad Lutzes to win Skate America in Grand Prix debut

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15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova of Russia became the first senior lady to complete two quadruple Lutz jumps in international competition en route to winning her first ever senior Grand Prix title in Las Vegas on Saturday at Skate America.

In her senior Grand Prix debut, Shcherbakova opened her free skate with a clean quad Lutz, triple toe combination followed by a clean solo quad Lutz. She also included two triple-triple combinations in her free skate — a triple Lutz, triple loop (where the loop was called under-rotated) and a triple flip, Euler, triple Salchow (where the Salchow was called under-rotated) — which scored 160.16 points. She won gold with a total score of 227.76 points, vaulting from fourth after the short program to land atop the podium.

“I was really excited to skate my first time at senior Grand Prix. I was little bit nervous, too, but it was OK and my coaches helped me to do my best,” Shcherbakova said in English following her victory. “We work on this jump a lot and we jump it every day, every training. I’m so happy I can show that I can do quad jumps. I’m really happy today that I did two quads.”

Another notable feature of Shcherbakova’s free skate? A mid-program, mid-ice costume change.

Shcherbakova trains alongside reigning world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova in Moscow under coach Eteri Tutberidze, known for training a host of burgeoning Russian skaters. She’s next scheduled to compete on the Grand Prix circuit at Cup of China in November.

Despite competing at the junior level at the time, Shcherbakova won the Russian national title ahead of skaters like Zagitova and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva. She also won silver at last season’s world junior championships.

MORE: A quad revolution coming to ladies’ skating

Bradie Tennell, who led after Friday’s short program, wound up in second place after a clean free skate that scored 141.04 points for a total overall score of 216.14 points. That left her sandwiched between the Russians. It’s her first silver medal on the Grand Prix series after winning bronze at Skate America in 2017 and bronze at Grand Prix France in 2018.

“I think going into next week, that’s my main goal is to just skate free,” Tennell said through U.S. Figure Skating, referencing her next Grand Prix competition next weekend at Skate Canada. “I’m always trying to improve in every aspect of my skating, and I think it’s been a process. But I think anything is. You don’t get a jump in a day, so you can’t expect to improve your skating in a week. I think that last year was a very good learning year for me. Going into this season, I’m able to take my experiences from last year and draw from them to better myself for this year.”

MORE: Bradie Tennell’s personality shines through at Skate America

Yelizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion from Russia, was fifth after the short program but executed two clean triple Axels (one in combination with a double toe) to start off her free skate. She scored 138.69 in the free skate and ultimately finished with a bronze medal with 205.97 total points.

Japan’s skaters were in second and third place after the short program on Friday, but Kaori Sakamoto slid to fourth and Wakaba Higuchi fell to sixth. Sakamoto finished with silver medals at Skate America for the past two years, and Higuchi won silver at the 2018 World Championships.

Skate America results are here.

Karen Chen, competing in her first major international event since the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, fell three times and finished eighth. She scored 99.64 in the free skate for 165.67 total points. The Cornell University freshman called this year her “comeback year” after a foot injury and is also slated to compete at NHK Trophy in Japan in November.

“It was definitely hard for me to find my rhythm today,” said Chen, who fought a cold at Skate America. “I’m so congested and it was really hard for me to breathe through my nose, so I started doing a lot of panting, and I think as I was just doing my program, I was just rushed and panting a lot. I wasn’t doing my deep breaths, so it just affected how I felt throughout my whole program. I thankfully have some time before NHK – time to regroup and start fresh

The third American in the field, Amber Glenn, totaled 104.92 points in the free skate and finished in seventh place with a total of 169.63 points.

The Grand Prix season continues next weekend with Skate Canada, taking place in Kelowna, British Columbia. Coverage will be available to NBC Sports Gold “Figure Skating Pass” subscribers and televised. Check out the 2019-20 season broadcast schedule for more details.

Skate America: Nathan Chen, Jason Brown 1-2 in men’s | Hubbell, Donohue defend ice dance title

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!

Hubbell, Donohue defend Skate America title to extend U.S. dance legacy

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Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue extended the U.S.’ ice dance legacy Saturday evening at Skate America in Las Vegas, winning their second straight title at the event.

Hubbell and Donohue, two-time and reigning national champions, performed their free dance to selections from “A Star is Born,” scoring 124.58 points, for a total score of 209.55 points. It was their season debut and the duo are slated to compete next weekend at Skate Canada to lock up a spot in December’s prestigious Grand Prix Final.

“We were happy to put it out for the first time and looking forward to getting a lot of feedback,” Hubbell said afterward through U.S. Figure Skating. “There were good things and not so good things, and we feel like we can make a lot of progress for next week. There was a nice crowd reaction and there was a good connection between the two of us and that’s a great place to start.”

“I’m hoping to have two working lungs by Skate Canada,” added Donohue, who revealed he has bronchitis.

U.S. ice dance teams have now won 11 straight titles at Skate America, and 15 of the last 17 titles, going back to 2003.

Aleksandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin, who sat fourth behind Hubbell and Donohue at the 2019 World Championships, finished runner-up by a 2.98-point margin. Their free dance to Justin Timberlake’s “Cry Me a River” won the phase with 124.66 points, but their overall score of 206.57 landed them in second place.

Canada’s Laurence Fornier Beaudry and Nikolaj Sorensen claimed the bronze medal. Their free dance tallied 118.36 points and they earned an overall score of 197.53 points. Until January 2018, the team represented Denmark. This Skate America bronze is their first-ever Grand Prix medal.

Skate America results are here.

The other American teams in the field finished sixth and seventh. Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko earned 180.55 total points, while Caroline Green and Michael Parsons scored 173.03. Green and Parsons were skating in their Grand Prix debut as a new team this season. Green formerly danced with her brother and Parsons was previously partnered with his sister.

“I’m very pleasantly surprised at how well she has adapted to senior,” Parsons said of Green, who last year competed on the junior level. “She has done really well and I couldn’t be happier.”

“I think that it is a challenge that I am ready for,” Green said of the change. “I’m happy to see that. I think this competition sort of solidified in myself that I’m capable of competing at the senior level. It was definitely a little confidence boost there.”

U.S. ice dance wins at Skate America:

  • 2003: Tanith White and Ben Agosto
  • 2004: White/Agosto
  • 2005: White/Agosto
  • 2007: White/Agosto
  • 2009: White/Agosto
  • 2010: Meryl Davis and Charlie White
  • 2011: Davis/White
  • 2012: Davis/White
  • 2013: Davis/White
  • 2014: Madison Chock and Evan Bates
  • 2015: Chock/Bates
  • 2016: Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani
  • 2017: Shibutani/Shibutani
  • 2018: Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue
  • 2019: Hubbell and Donohue

MORE: How to watch Skate America | Nathan Chen, Jason Brown atop men’s field | Shcherbakova lands two quads to win ladies’ event

As a reminder, you can watch the events from the 2019-20 figure skating season live and on-demand with the ‘Figure Skating Pass’ on NBC Sports Gold. Check out a free trial of the Figure Skating Pass during Skate America from Oct. 18-20. 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.

OlympicTalk is on Apple News. Favorite us!