Winter Olymipcs

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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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Vincent Zhou to attend Brown University, details new skating situation

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World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou will attend Brown University in Providence, Rhode Island in the fall. He’ll train in Boston, though.

He plans to live on campus, he told NBCSports.com/figure-skating, and his mother will also make the cross-country move to help him commute to practice. He could train on campus at Brown, he said, but all their ice time is taken up by hockey, and his options were limited to midnight sessions.

“My mom will be coming to help with transportation because making the hour-plus commute to training and back can and will be dangerous under fatigue and mental load,” he said.

Zhou chose Brown for its “flexible, self-directed undergrad curriculum, beautiful campus and great surroundings, and relatively short proximity to a viable training location.” He’s interested in a variety of courses, including business, economics, public policy, philosophy and psychology.

He will complete the fall semester, then take gap years or semesters until after the 2022 Olympics.

“I can return home after the fall semester ends to get some good, proper training in before the more important second half of the season starts,” Zhou said. “Subsequently, I will be able to put full focus and effort into achieving my dream of becoming 2022 Olympic champion.”

Zhou expects to get on the ice about 10 hours per week to practice, a significant reduction.

Another change will be the addition of new coach, Mie Hamada from Japan. She also coaches top Japanese skaters Satoko Miyahara and Rika Kihira.

“The search for the right coach leads almost every high-ranking skater on a national or international search — see literally every skater competing at this level,” he said of his search for the right coach. “In pursuit of a common goal, I and others seek the best guidance and support, which of course isn’t always conveniently within arm’s reach. That’s why we all have searched and moved far and wide.”

He hasn’t been specific, but Zhou still plans to work with his other coaches, too. But while at Brown, he will primarily train alone.

“I have great self-awareness, so I trust that I can figure out some things alone,” he said. “However, my coaches, including coach Hamada, will be visiting me for short periods of time when their travels and schedules permit.”

There are other models of success for skaters who train and attend Ivy League schools – two-time world champion Nathan Chen, for example.

But Zhou and Chen’s situations are different, Zhou said, because Zhou wasn’t able to select his own international competitions like Chen could as the world’s top skater. Zhou was instead assigned back-to-back Grand Prix events, in China (Nov. 8-10) and Moscow (Nov. 15-17), but he doesn’t see it as an issue.

“I will likely do a senior B [lower-level event] before my Grand Prix, and maybe a summer international soon,” he said. “Back-to-back Grand Prixs are more than I could have asked for, since separate ones would not mix well with academic catch-up and jetlag. It’s like combining errands into one trip.”

He hasn’t spoken to Chen about his schedule and ability to balance and knows “ultimately, it will be up to me to figure it out.” Zhou will be in the same boat as Karen Chen, who plans to attend Cornell in the fall.

“Under challenge is when the best rewards come out, so I’m looking forward to the growth and opportunity that is sure to come out of it all,” Zhou said. “This season will be about self-discovery.”

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Salt Lake City to pursue 2030 Winter Olympics

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SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Salt Lake City has become the first U.S. city to announce it will pursue a bid for the 2030 Winter Olympics.

An exploratory committee that studied the issue and state leaders announced the decision Wednesday after spending nearly four months ensuring Utah could host the Winter Games again without losing money. The city hosted the 2002 Winter Olympics.

Salt Lake City also is open to bidding for 2026 but prefers 2030.

The U.S. Olympic Committee has until March to pick a city for 2026, though chief executive Scott Blackmun said recently that officials believe the 2030 Winter Olympics are more realistic for a U.S. city.

In the U.S., Denver and Reno are considering bids. Internationally, cities weighing bids include Sion, Switzerland; Calgary, Canada; Stockholm, Sweden; and Sapporo, Japan.