Nathan Chen: American figure skater balancing act Yale student and Olympic favorite

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Thus began a relentless pursuit of victories and a laser focus that culminated in the realization of his own predictions in PyeongChang.

Yet as she prepares for her second Olympic outing in Beijing this month, Chen has discovered that the key to on-ice glory may – paradoxically – lie far from her.

Despite achieving a dream in 2018, 18-year-old Chen ultimately left South Korea disappointed after a 5th-place finish in the individual event. He won a bronze medal in the team event, but criticized his own contribution.

In the four years since then, Chen has gone from strength to strength, winning three consecutive World Championships and sealing a 6th consecutive US title to arrive in Beijing as a favorite.

It was a run of form made all the more impressive by the simultaneous juggling of a statistics and data science degree at Yale, but that balancing act could help guide the 22-year-old to an Olympic gold medal. still elusive.

“Before, I really took this for granted and was like, ‘Hey, I’m just here to compete and here to win and that’s all I want to focus on,'” Chen told CNN’s Coy Wire. Sports in January.

“A lot of the ability to perform well comes from being able to spend time off the rink and recuperate, giving yourself time to be a human and a friend and fulfilling the role that is not a athlete all the time.

“Being able to hang out with my friends, my family, have hobbies, do things that have nothing to do with skating – just kind of a physical and mental rest – has been really helpful.”

And Chen made a perfect competitive start to the 2022 Games, with a nearly flawless routine to open his account at the Olympics.

He landed two quads and a triple Axel in his first impressive display, and when asked about clean quads, Chen said they were often a hot or cold maneuver.

“If I wake up on the right side of the bed, they’re effortless, and if not, they’re not so easy. I try my best, sometimes they’re good, sometimes they’re bad. As with everything, you learn everything moment you make a mistake, and you try to do better next time.”

Back to school

For most students at school, sport is a practical escape from studies. Still, Chen, having taken a break from Yale to focus on Olympic preparations, is already looking forward to being back at the library in August.

“My time at Yale was awesome,” Chen said.

“It was really great to be able to have the opportunity to realize that sport is really important and that’s why we do all this, but there is also the other side of life that is available for athletes.

“You can still be successful in sports, even if you don’t think about it 24/7. I think just being able to have that awareness has been really helpful and I’m really looking forward to it. to return to school after these Games.”

Campus life has also broadened his worldview, with Chen becoming more outspoken on topics such as voting rights and racial inequality since his last Olympics.

In July 2020, he shared on Instagram his appreciation of Ibrahim Kendi’s book, “How to Be an Anti-Racist”, as part of an ongoing effort to learn about and engage with social issues.
“The last four years have given me many opportunities to learn more about what is happening in the world. I have spent my whole life since the age of three basically in an ice rink,” he said. he said at the USOPC Media Summit. in October 2021.

“But luckily I was also able to go to university from 2018 and that gave me a bit more exposure to what the real world is like.”

“It’s great to be able to at least discover yourself and where you belong and how you can create whatever positive influence you can.”

Chen skates in the men's short program during the US Figure Skating Championships at Bridgestone Arena on January 08, 2022 in Nashville, Tennessee.

Roots

But don’t confuse his passion for school with a lack of competitive drive. Growing up in Salt Lake City, host of the 2002 Games, Olympic glory will mark the culmination of a lifelong ambition.

This year’s Games also contain an additional personal element – Chen’s parents were born in China before moving to the United States around 30 years ago, and therefore the Beijing Games mean so much more.

“It certainly means a lot to us to know that’s where my parents are from,” Chen told Wire.

“Having the opportunity to be back in their home country and my mother’s hometown to compete in the Olympics – I still have family in China too – it’s going to be really special to have that. .”

Another personal motivation stems from Chen’s desire to banish the demons from his “rough” performance in PyeongChang.

A fifth-place individual and team bronze medal would mean a fantastic Olympic debut for most, but Chen – even with his new perspective on competition – still maintains a fierce desire to be the best.

“I’m very grateful to my team for getting me bronze last time out,” Chen said.

“I certainly haven’t really made my weight, so to be able to win my own individual medal after that would just mean the world to me.

“That’s why I’ve trained so much in my life. That’s why I come to the rink every day and do what I have to do, so I can have those opportunities to do my best. “

Idol

Chen’s scintillating form over the past four years has done little to quell the dizzying expectations he carried in PyeongChang as an 18-year-old.

It is in testimony to these performances that Chen arrives in Beijing as the favorite despite the presence of the reigning double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

The Japanese icon may be the biggest obstacle between Chen and his ultimate dream, but for Chen, competing with his “idol” is nothing but a privilege.

Hanyu performs during figure skating gala exhibition at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 25, 2018 in South Korea.

“He did so much for the sport, both with himself and with all the things he did off the ice – I think he really changed the sport for the better,” Chen said. .

“Just being able to have opportunities to compete with him, to be on the same ice as him, is an honor in itself.

“I’ve always been a huge fan of his, so to be able to see one of your idols on the ice while you compete is pretty special.

“He constantly pushes the sport forward, so it’s really special to have competitors like that.”

Reuters contributed to this report.



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