Nathan Chen

AP

No burnout for ‘Rocket Man’ Nathan Chen

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Last season, Nathan Chen made it all look so easy.

An undefeated Grand Prix series, including his second Grand Prix Final victory. His third U.S. title. A second world title, won with personal best scores.

All while navigating his freshman year at Yale, and earning solid grades. He hasn’t lost a full competition since PyeongChang.

As a sophomore, though, the 20-year-old figure skater expects a tougher road. Yale’s fall academic schedule isn’t quite as cooperative as last year. Chen, who opens his season at the free skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 5 and Skate America two weeks later, will miss some classes when he travels to Grenoble for Internationaux de France the first week of November.

He also expects to burn a bit more midnight oil than he did as a freshman.

“School will be a little harder, with harder classes,” Chen said while attending U.S. Figure Skating’s Champs Camp at his hometown training rink in Irvine, Calif., in late August. “A lot of my classes last semester were pre-reqs for the major requirements. Now I’m starting to actually hit the major requirements, so that’ll be pretty challenging classes, but it should be all right. I may get tutors to help me.”

Experience taught the Statistics and Data Technology (STEM) major how to best arrange his schedule. Last year, he took Spanish as one of his electives, with the class meeting five times a week. This season, Chen said, he’s focusing on courses that meet once or twice a week.

“The first semester wasn’t ideal, but I’m arranging my schedule so that it is a little bit more manageable to some degree, while at the same time fitting in all the requirements that I need,” he said. “I will leave language for when I come back.”

Chen means after the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where he will challenge for a gold medal after placing fifth in PyeongChang (17th in the short program; first in the free skate). While he has not announced concrete plans, he has talked of the possibility of taking a sabbatical from Yale prior to Beijing.

Chen’s offseason gave him little respite from travel. His schedule included skating shows in Japan last month. There, he performed his new competitive short program, choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne to Charles Aznavour’s “La Boheme.”

Then Chen showed much of his new free skate at a show in Sun Valley, Idaho. It’s set to selections (including “Rocket Man” and “Bennie and the Jets”) from the Elton John biopic “Rocketman.”

Marie-France (Dubreuil), the choreographer I’m working with, was really inspired by the movie and wanted to do a piece to it,” Chen said. “If the choreographer is really inspired or feels as though they can do a good job with it, I can let them run free with it.”

Despite his busy summer, Chen thinks he’s had plenty of time training with California-based coach Rafael Arutunian.

“The way that he teaches us is not really on a day-to-day basis,” Chen said. “He kind of just gives us general ideas and we work on his concepts and stuff like that. … We just need to be on the same page.”

This season, Arutunian – who also trains U.S. bronze medalist Mariah Bell, Canadian junior star Stephen Gogolev and many others – may make a few trips to Connecticut to sharpen Chen’s technique, especially his all-important quadruple jumps.

“We were planning on that last season, but (it) never actually ended up happening, so we’ll see what happens this year,” Chen said. “I want Raf to come, but he has a lot of skaters. He has a lot of other people that he’s committed to, so it’s kind of difficult for him to pop out. But, at the end of the day, if he can that would be great.”

MORE: Alysa Liu becomes first U.S. woman to land quad

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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U.S. figure skating rankings going into national championships

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A discipline-by-discipline look at U.S. figure skaters’ best season scores with no more top-level events until the U.S. Championships from Jan. 24-27 in Detroit …

Men
1. Nathan Chen — 282.42
2. Chen — 280.57
3. Chen — 271.58
4. Jason Brown — 263.42
5. Brown — 256.33
6. Brown — 234.97
7. Vincent Zhou — 234.25
8. Brown — 233.23
9. Zhou — 225.75
10. Camden Pulkinen — 223.95

Chen is on his way to a third straight national title, while Brown has been a pleasant surprise this fall after changing coaches in the offseason. The Sochi Olympian and 2015 U.S. champion even beat Chen in one program on the Grand Prix Series. Zhou, after placing sixth in PyeongChang, has struggled with under-rotations on jumps but is still in the driver’s seat for one of three world championships spots.

Women
1. Bradie Tennell — 206.41
2. Tennell — 202.41
3. Ting Cui — 199.79
4. Mariah Bell — 198.96
5. Tennell — 197.78
6. Bell — 196.60
7. Tennell — 192.89
8. Bell — 190.25
9. Bell — 188.97
10. Ashley Lin — 181.21

Two world team spots for the women. Tennell and Bell are the top returning veterans this season, but remember that 2017 U.S. champion Karen Chen has yet to compete with a foot injury. Then there are Ting, 16, and Alysa Liu, a 13-year-old who isn’t age eligible for junior or senior worlds but can compete in the senior division at nationals. Liu landed triple Axels in both programs at sectionals last month, scoring 212.97 points (though domestic scores are often inflated and not comparable with international scores).

Ice Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue — 205. 35
2. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.82
3. Hubbell/Donohue — 200.76
4. Hubbell/Donohue — 197.42
5. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker — 184.63
6. Hawayek/Baker — 184.04
7. Hawayek/Baker — 181.47
8. Rachel Parsons/Michael Parsons — 180.95
9. Lorraine McNamara/Quinn Carpenter — 180.57
10. Christina Carreira/Anthony Ponomarenko — 180.22

The only active U.S. couple to beat Hubbell and Donohue in direct competition is Madison Chock and Evan Bates, but the two-time world medalists missed the entire fall season due to Chock’s ankle surgery. With Olympic bronze medalists Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani sitting out this season and maybe done competing altogether, Hubbell and Donohue will be clear favorites to repeat as national champions.

Three U.S. couples will go to worlds. Hawayek and Baker, after qualifying for their first Grand Prix Final, are primed to go back after placing 10th last season. The status of Chock and Bates will largely determine who rounds out the world team.

Pairs
1. Tarah Kayne/Danny O’Shea — 191.43

2. Alexa Scimeca Knierim/Chris Knierim — 190.49
3. Knierim/Knierim — 182.84
4. Ashley Cain/Timothy LeDuc — 181.56
5. Kayne/O’Shea — 177.69
6. Knierim/Knierim — 177.22
7. Deanna Stellato/Nathan Bartholomay — 176.44
8. Cain/LeDuc — 175.06
9. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.91
10. Stellato/Bartholomay — 174.78

Kayne and O’Shea, who likely would have made the Olympic team if the U.S. qualified more than one pair for PyeongChang, surprised by posting that 191 at the last event of the Grand Prix Series three weeks ago. The U.S. has just one pair at worlds this season for the first time since 1984 and last earned a medal in 2002. Kayne and O’Shea and the Knierims are ranked Nos. 9 and 10 in the world this season. Cain is recovering after falling head-first on the ice from a botched lift on Friday night.

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Nathan Chen repeats as Grand Prix Final champion, aces fall term

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Nathan Chen completed a perfect fall figure skating season. Now, for that Spanish exam back at Yale.

Chen landed three quadruple jumps — and fell on a fourth — in his free skate at the Grand Prix Final but still won the second-biggest annual international competition for a second straight year.

The world champion beat Japanese Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno by 13.32 points. South Korean Cha Jun-Hwan was third at an event that lacked injured Japanese superstar Yuzuru Hanyu.

“I definitely did not do my greatest programs, both short and long, mistakes here and there,” said Chen, who also put his hands down on a quad in Thursday’s short program. “Basically right back to the books.”

Chen joined Tara Lipinski and Meryl Davis and Charlie White as Americans to win multiple Grand Prix Finals, but none of those previous skaters had an autumn quite like the 19-year-old world champion.

Chen enrolled at Yale, sprinkling in Grand Prix Series victories in October and November during class breaks and while studying 3,000 miles from his coach, Rafael Arutunian. He’s looking forward to more regular practice after next week’s final exams, when he flies home to California.

“It’s definitely been an aspect of my skating that’s lacking a little bit,” said Chen, who will go for a third straight U.S. title in late January. “I find practicing by myself or with [other] skaters … they’re not the level as the training mates in California.”

Uno continued his trend of making major podiums, but never the top step. He’s done that at four straight Grand Prix Finals, the last two world championships, the last two Four Continents Championships and in PyeongChang. Uno struggled with two of his four quads on Friday.

“I can definitely say it was not a good performance,” he said, according to the International Skating Union. “And I think every time I finish a competition I say the same thing. I performed today with the mindset that I would finally be able to make it. But it did not go well.”

The Grand Prix Final finishes Saturday with the women’s and pairs’ free skates and the free dance. A full broadcast schedule is here.

Men’s Results
Gold: Nathan Chen — 282.42
Silver: Shoma Uno — 275.10
Bronze: Cha Jun-Hwan (KOR) — 263.49
4. Michal Brezina (CZE) — 255.26
5. Keegan Messing (CAN) — 236.05
6. Sergei Voronov (RUS) — 226.44

In other events, U.S. champions and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue took the ice dance lead by 2.23 points with their highest-scoring rhythm dance this season.

Hubbell and Donohue entered as favorites given none of the Olympic medalists are at the Final. They can notch the biggest win for a U.S. dance couple since Davis and White’s breakthrough at the Sochi Olympics.

None of the Olympic pairs’ medalists are at the Final, either. So Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang took a surprise lead, while pre-event favorites Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres struggled with their side-by-side triple toe loops.

Short Dance
1. Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue (USA) — 80.53
2. Charlene Guignard/Marco Fabbri (ITA) — 78.30
3. Victoria Sinitsina/Nikita Katsalapov (RUS) — 77.33
4. Alexandra Stepanova/Ivan Bukin (RUS) — 77.20
5. Tiffani Zagorski/Jonathan Guerreiro (RUS) — 72.98
6. Kaitlin Hawayek/Jean-Luc Baker (USA) — 71.33

Pairs Short Program
1. Peng Cheng/Jin Yang (CHN) — 75.69
2. Natalya Zabiyako/Alexander Enbert (RUS) — 75.18
3. Yevgenia Tarasova/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 74.04
4. Vanessa James/Morgan Cipres (FRA) — 71.51
5. Nicole Della Monica/Matteo Guarise (ITA) — 69.77
6. Daria Pavliuchenko/Denis Khodykin (RUS) — 61.24

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