Karen Chen

Karen Chen
AP

After solid showing in Greensboro, Karen Chen muses gap year from Cornell

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GREENSBORO, N.C. – Karen Chen’s competitive juices are flowing again.

After missing last season with a right foot stress fracture, the 20-year-old skater had up-and-down performances at her Grand Prix events this season, putting out solid short programs only to falter a bit in free skates.

But on Friday night at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships in Greensboro, North Carolina, the Cornell freshman recaptured some of the form that won her the 2017 U.S. title. She covered the ice with speed and assurance, and her opening triple Lutz was one of the finest in the event. Earning 123.24 points, she rose from fifth after the short program to place fourth overall.

A fine job, but not entirely satisfying.

“It was pretty disappointing, I felt like I definitely trained harder and I’ve done better,” Chen said, citing a missed triple flip.

A few minutes later, she gave longtime coach Tammy Gambill a jolt.

“Coming here and competing and being able to accomplish quite a bit here at nationals, although I feel like I could’ve done better, I know that school was definitely a factor into my training,” Chen said.

“I think I’m going to have to take some time to kind of re-evaluate while I’m on spring semester and just kind of see. Obviously, juggling two (priorities) is quite challenging. I think I would have to maybe take a gap year or something.”

If that’s Chen’s decision, Gambill certainly won’t try to talk her out of it.

“We haven’t discussed it, so I was kind of happy for her to just say that,” Gambill said. “I know what I’m thinking, but I wanted to get through this competition and then discuss what our plans were for next year.”

NATIONALS: TV Schedule | Full Results

Maintaining top competitive form while attending Cornell, an Ivy League college in Ithaca, New York, is challenging for Chen. She cannot get much ice time at the campus arena, and travels to a rink 10-15 minutes away to train on her own.

“Thankfully (the rink) has a lot of ice time that they were able to give me,” Chen said. “I had private ice, which was good and bad at the same time.”

There is much Chen loves about college: making friends outside of the skating world, living in her own dorm room, her classes in human development. Still, her most effective on-ice training has happened during academic breaks, when she returns to Colorado Springs to work with Gambill.

“I had to kind of put school as a priority, since classes are not negotiable,” Chen said. “Whatever the time is, you have to show up and do it. Then, having to figure out the times where I could fit skating in, and time for off-ice training was… it look a while to kind of figure out what was working and what made sense. I was lucky enough to have a solid two or three week winter break where I was able to train in Colorado before coming here.”

Chen did make time to scrap her free skate, a recurring theme in her career. Following her ninth-place finish at NHK Trophy in late November, she worked with Ilona Melnichenko to revivify a prior routine set to music from Slow Dancing in the Big City.

“She wasn’t feeling her free, it wasn’t working for her,” Gambill said. “It’s like, we’re not doing this program again after two disaster long programs (at Grand Prixes).”

“Things were much better here,” she added. “Karen had a few mistakes in there, but I think she’s back on the right track. She’s going in the right direction.”

While Chen’s plan is to return to Cornell for the second semester of her freshman year – which began on January 21st – something else might appear on her calendar: the 2020 Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, held in Seoul, South Korea February 4-9. If offered the assignment, Gambill hopes Chen will accept.

“We have not discussed that and that’s something that if it comes to it, we will sit down and try and talk about what our options are,” Gambill said.  “I would hope that she would be able to do it. I think the more she can get out and compete right now, the better she’s going to be.”

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MORE: Hallelujah! Mariah Bell strikes secret chord with mentor Adam Rippon

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.

Alena Kostornaia takes one of three records on first day of NHK Trophy

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The International Skating Union reset the figure skating record book at the beginning of the 2018-19 season due to a change in the scoring system, and skaters followed up Friday by erasing three short-lived short program records at the high-scoring NHK Trophy in Tokyo.

Russia’s Alena Kostornaia, the Chinese pair of Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, and the dominant ice dance duo of France, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, all set records on the competition’s first day. Only Papadakis and Cizeron had previously held the record. Kostornaia and Sui/Han leap-frogged the previous record holders.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu barely missed breaking his own record, settling instead for a lead of nearly 18 points in the men’s competition.

The surprise was in the women’s competition, where 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen set a personal best and is in position to keep world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova out of the Grand Prix Final.

SCENARIOS: See who needs what to qualify for the Final

WOMEN

Kostornaia took both the record and the lead from home favorite Rika Kihira, who held the previous record with 83.97 points at the World Team Trophy in April. The 16-year-old Russian scored 85.04 points to Kihira’s 79.89.

Both skaters opened with triple Axels, and each landed a triple-triple combination. But Kostornaia was graded a fraction of a point higher with every element and in the program components, and Kihira’s triple loop got a negative grade.

Chen posted a personal best of 67.21 with a routine to “You Say” by Lauren Daigle. Zagitova bested her rivals in program components with her typical edge in artistry but drew minus-5 marks across the board on a combination attempt that ended with just a single loop.

Chen’s jumps had a lower base value than many of the skaters behind her, and her program component scores were far behind Zagitova’s, but she drew solid marks on every element.

Starr Andrews was ninth, missing one of her jumps after opening with a strong triple-triple combination. Megan Wessenberg fell twice and ranked 12th.

MORE: Alina Zagitova focused on artistry, while other Russians push technical boundaries

MEN

Hanyu once again proved that no skater aside from Nathan Chen can challenge him. He thrilled his home crowd with an opening quadruple Salchow and outdistanced the field with a quad-triple combination. He also picked up many 9.75s on his program components and even picked up 10s from a couple of judges on his way to a 109.34 score, just shy of his record 110.53 set in the 2018 Rostelecom Cup.

France’s Kevin Aymoz overcame a shaky opening quad toe to rank second with 91.47 points. Russia’s Sergei Voronov took a firm grasp on the podium with an 88.63.

Jason Brown, who had a chance at reaching the Grand Prix Final heading into this event, racked up points in his program components but fell twice and was marked down on a triple Axel to rank eighth. Tomoki Hiwatashi also had two falls and an under-rotated jump in an ambitious program to place 11th.

ICE DANCE 

The peerless pair of four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron got high marks on every element and dazzling program components to break the 90-point mark with 90.03 points with their “Fame” program. Russia’s Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin also set a personal best of 84.07 to sit second, just ahead of Italy’s Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri, who ditched their previous program to dance to “Grease.”

Christina Carreira and Anthony Ponomarenko placed in the middle of the chasing pack in fifth place. Lorraine McNamara and Quinn Carpenter are eighth.

MORE: Gabriella Papadakis, Guillaume Cizeron on ‘Fame,’ chasing history

PAIRS

Sui and Han scored 81.27 to take a substantial lead despite negative marks on one of their elements. They took the record by 0.06 points over Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov, who posted the previous record at the 2019 World Championships.

The Canadian pair of Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro sit in second place. Alexa Scimera Knierim and Chris Knierim had a fall and one shaky element to place fifth. Tarah Kayne and Danny O’Shea struggled with their elements to take seventh.

NHK Trophy
Men’s short program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)  — 109.34
2. Kevin Aymoz (FRA) — 91.47
3. Sergei Voronoz (RUS) — 88.63
4. Roman Sadovsky (CAN) — 78.51
5. Makar Ignatov (RUS) — 78.47
6. Koshiro Shimada (JPN) — 75.98
7. Sota Yamamoto (JPN) — 74.88
8. Jason Brown (USA) — 73.73
9. Anton Shulepov (RUS) — 71.76
10. Conrad Orzel (CAN) — 70.35
11. Tomoki Hiwatashi (USA) — 64.54
12. Alexei Bychenko (ISR) — 61.97

Women’s short program
1. Alena Kostornaia (RUS) — 85.04
2. Rika Kihira (JPN) — 79.89
3. Karen Chen (USA) — 67.21
4. Alina Zagitova (RUS) — 66.84
5. Mako Yamashita (JPN) — 65.70
6. Eun-Soo Lim (KOR) — 65.28
7. Sofia Samodurova (RUS) — 63.85
8. Yuhana Yokoi (JPN) — 62.67
9. Starr Andrews (USA) — 58.92
10. Kailani Craine (AUS) — 55.82
11. Mae-Berenice Meite (FRA) — 49.77
12. Megan Wessenberg (USA) — 44.78

Pairs short program
1. Sui Wenjing / Han Cong (CHN) — 81.27
2. Kirsten Moore-Towers / Michael Marinaro (CAN) — 71.21
3. Anastasia Mishina / Aleksandr Galliamov (RUS) — 69.00
4. Alisa Efimova / Alexander Korovin (RUS) — 64.94
5. Alexa Scimeca Knierim / Chris Knierim (USA) — 63.63
6. Riku Miura / Ryuichi Kihara (JPN) — 62.41
7. Tarah Kayne / Danny O’Shea (USA) — 58.70
8. Nicole Della Monica / Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 57.55

Ice dance rhythm dance
1. Gabriella Papadakis / Guillaume Cizeron (FRA) — 90.03
2. Alexandra Stepanova / Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 84.07
3. Charlene Guignard / Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 82.13
4. Lilah Fear / Lewis Gibson (GBR) — 76.09
5. Christina Carreira / Anthony Ponomarenko (USA) — 75.25
6. Wang Shiyue / Liu Xinyu (CHN) — 74.73
7. Sofia Shevchenko / Igor Eremenko (RUS) — 69.59
8. Lorraine McNamara / Quinn Carpenter (USA) — 68.80
9. Carolane Soucisse / Shane Firus (CAN) — 68.39

NHK Trophy Broadcast Schedule

Day Time (ET) Event Network
Friday 10 p.m. Free Dance NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Saturday 12:30 a.m. Pairs’ Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
2:30 a.m. Women’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
5 a.m. Men’s Free NBC Sports Gold STREAM LINK
Sunday 4 p.m. Highlights NBC | STREAM LINK

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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Figure skating Grand Prix: Five things to watch

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World champions Nathan Chen and Alina Zagitova. Former U.S. champions Karen Chen and Bradie Tennell. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou. World champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, and two-time U.S. ice dance champions/world championship medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue. Quads, quads, quads.

All of these skaters and jumps will be featured in figure skating’s Grand Prix, which runs from this weekend’s Skate America to the Grand Prix Final Dec. 5-8 at the 2006 Olympic venue of Torino, Italy. January has the U.S. Championships and European Championships, February has the Four Continents Championships, and the season wraps up with the world championships in March.

TV SCHEDULE: How to watch Skate America

Here’s what to watch over the next two months:

1. Dominant dancers due for defeat? 

France’s Papadakis and Cizeron have won four of the last five world championships. The only duo to beat them since 2014, Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moirhas officially retired. They’re still in their mid-20s. They posted the four highest scores last season.

The reigning world championship silver medalists, Russia’s Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov, had a major breakthrough last season. Until last season, they had never won the Russian championships, never skated in a Grand Prix Final, never finished higher than fourth in the European championships and never finished higher than ninth in the world championships. They still haven’t won a medal in the European championships or won a Grand Prix event. Were their second-place finishes in the world championships and Grand Prix Final a fluke or a sign that they’re ready to challenge for the top?

The top U.S. contenders, Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Madison Hubbell/Zach Donohue, train in Montreal with Papadakis and Cizeron, so they know what it takes to get to the top. Hubbell and Donohue posted the highest scores after the French champions and Russian runners-up last year to take their second straight world championship medal and a win at the Grand Prix Final ahead of Sinitsina/Katsalapov. Chock and Bates earned world championship medals in the middle of the decade and finished sixth last year as Chock returned from a long injury layoff.

Oddsmakers would surely favor Papadakis and Cizeron in every competition, but will the underdogs have their day?

The GP schedule for the top dancers and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Hubbell/Donohue, Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko, Caroline Green/Michael Parsons
  • Skate Canada: Hubbell/Donohue, Green/Parsons, Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker
  • Internationaux de France: Papadakis/Cizeron, Chock/Bates
  • Cup of China: Sinitsina/Katsalapov, Chock/Bates, Hawayek/Baker
  • Rostelecom Cup: Sinitsina/Katsalapov
  • NHK Trophy: Papadakis/Cizeron, Carreira/Ponomarenko, Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter

2. Can Vincent Zhou topple Chen and Hanyu?

The 2017 world junior champion has steadily and rapidly climbed the ranks since moving to senior level, taking sixth in the 2018 Olympics and third in the 2019 Four Continents before laying down two stunners, taking third in the world championships and posting a score of 299.01 in the World Team Trophy, a mark bested only by Chen and Hanyu.

This season, after spending his youth in Colorado and California, he’ll go across the country to start college at Brown.

Chen and Hanyu have been over the 300-point mark, and Japan’s Shoma Uno is consistently over 275 — the only skater other than Chen, Hanyu and Zhou to beat that standard last season. (Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist and two-time world championship runner-up, picked a bad time to fall just under 275 — the world championships, where he finished fourth behind the other three high scorers.)

The GP schedule for the top men’s skaters and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Chen, Jason Brown, Alexei Krasnozhon
  • Skate Canada: Hanyu, Camden Pulkinen
  • Internationaux de France: Uno, Chen, Tomoki Hiwatashi
  • Cup of China: Pulkinen, Zhou
  • Rostelecom Cup: Uno, Zhou, Krasnozhon
  • NHK Trophy: Hanyu, Brown, Hiwatashi

MORE: Zhou balances Brown University with overseas assignments

3. Can the Tampa-trained pair of Vanessa James and Morgan Ciprès follow up their big year?

James has taken a long and winding road to the top of the pairs world. She was born in Canada, then lived in Bermuda and Virginia before competing as a singles skater for Britain. When she moved to pairs, she also switched to France to partner first with Yannick Bonheur and then Ciprès.

For several years, the pair won the French championship but not much else. In the 2017-18 season, they earned a couple of Grand Prix medals and placed fifth in the Olympics before claiming their biggest international prize to date, a bronze medal in the world championships.

Last year, the pair went on a hot streak. They won Skate Canada. They won the Internationaux de France. They won the Grand Prix Final. They won the European championship. Finally, their streak ended at a bad time, and they took fifth in the world championships.

Olympic silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won their second world championship last season after missing the GP season because of Han’s foot injury. Russia’s Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov were second in the world championships.

U.S. champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy Leduc skated in the U.S. Classic last month and posted a higher score than any of their compatriots last year. The previous champions, Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim, were seventh last year. The last two U.S. champions — Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier and Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — also are continuing to compete this year.

The GP schedule for the top pairs and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier, Jessica Calalang/Brian Johnson
  • Skate Canada: Tarasova/Morozov, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim, Calalang/Johnson
  • Internationaux de France: Cain-Gribble/Leduc, Denney/Frazier
  • Cup of China: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea
  • Rostelecom Cup: Tarasova/Morozov, Audrey Lu/Misha Mitrofanov
  • NHK Trophy: Sui/Han, Kayne/O’Shea, Scimeca Knierim/Knierim

4. How many more young quad-jumping Russians can women’s skating handle? 

Zagitova is the defending world champion, and she isn’t even the Russian with the biggest buzz heading into the new season.

Back-to-back world junior champion Alexandra Trusova is the first woman to land a quadruple Lutz in competition. She’s also the first to land a quad toeloop. She landed two quads in one program at the 2018 world juniors, and she has done three in an unofficial skate this fall. She’s only 15. Her free skate this season includes music from “Game of Thrones.”

Anna Shcherbakova, also 15, has landed a quadruple Lutz and was second in last year’s world juniors, and she upset Trusova and Zagitova to win the Russian championship.

Trusova and Shcherbakova both lost in last year’s junior Grand Prix Final to yet another Russian, Alena Kostornaia, who’s 16 now and has the good taste to skate to the Muse song “Supermassive Black Hole” in her free skate.

Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova will make their senior-level Grand Prix debuts this season. Trusova already has competed this year and posted the highest score recorded under the new scoring system, just ahead of prior marks from Zagitova and Kostornaia.

5. Can the U.S. women put it together this year? 

Chen and Zhou give the U.S. men two legitimate medal threats in any competition, and the U.S. ice dance machine continues to spin forth contenders. But women’s skating has been in a long dry spell since the era of Michelle Kwan, Tara Lipinski, Sarah Hughes and Sasha Cohen ended. Ashley Wagner, the last U.S. woman on the podium in a major event, has retired.

Today, 2018 U.S. champion Bradie Tennell has shown she’s capable of big numbers, but cracking the top five has been difficult.

The reigning U.S. champion, Alysa Liu, is age eligible for only the Junior Grand Prix series. She’s 14, and she has already posted a score higher than any U.S. woman other than Tennell posted last year.

The good news for the U.S. women is the return of 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen after an injury-riddled 2018-19 season. Like Zhou, she’s heading to an Ivy League school, enrolling at Cornell.

Two-time U.S. medalist Mariah Bell and the ever-entertaining Starr Andrews also have two Grand Prix assignments this season.

Ting Cui, the bronze medalist after Trusova and Shcherbakova in the 2019 world junior championships, withdrew from her Grand Prix events with an ankle injury.

The GP schedule for the top women and U.S. entries:

  • Skate America: Shcherbakova, Chen, Tennell, Amber Glenn
  • Skate Canada: Trusova, Tennell
  • Internationaux de France: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Andrews, Bell
  • Cup of China: Shcherbakova
  • Rostelecom Cup: Trusova, Bell
  • NHK Trophy: Zagitova, Kostornaia, Chen, Andrews, Megan Wessenberg

MORE: Tennell on self-doubt, lessons learned in 2019

MORE: Figure skating season broadcast schedule

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.

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