Watching Nathan Chen skate can be an awesome exercise. From his quad jumps executed with such power and apparent ease, to tender, articulate arm movements, it’s not uncommon to experience a jaw-dropping moment or two.
Many people had that experience watching Chen win Olympic gold in men’s figure skating in February – the seventh American to do so. He was the winner of a dominant four-year run that, since finishing fifth at the 2018 Olympics, has seen him win all but one of the competitions he entered. – including several world and national titles.
These days, he’s putting all that competitive pressure behind him for now, touring with Stars on Ice, which will stop in Seattle on May 28 at the Climate Pledge Arena. The show features group and individual acts from Chen and his fellow Olympians. The cast includes US champions Alysa Liu, Jason Brown, Mariah Bell, Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu; national and world champion pairs team Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier; national champion and world medalist ice dance teams Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates; and world medalist Vincent Zhou. Additionally, the bronze medal-winning USA ice dance team of Jean-Luc Baker (who is from Edmonds) and Kaitlin Hawayek will be guest skaters at the Seattle show.
Earlier this month, Chen took some time before a Stars on Ice show in Cleveland to answer some of our questions. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What did you do to celebrate after winning the Olympic gold medal?
I haven’t really done much, honestly. I immediately got back to work and prepared for the tour.
Did you find the Olympics to be what you expected this year, especially given the pandemic?
Overall it was a good experience. You’re so busy with competition, practices – there isn’t much time otherwise. Overall, I’m proud of the way our team held together, how we trained, practised. Some were more directly affected and were unable to compete. my heart goes out to him [referring to teammate Zhou, who wasn’t able to compete in the men’s figure skating competition because he tested positive for the coronavirus].
Do you have any news from Vincent Zhou?
He’s on tour with us actually. It’s not something the cast talks about much – just trying to enjoy the show. He is a great sportsman. I’m proud of the way he competed at Worlds [the World Figure Skating Championships in March, where Zhou won the bronze medal]. It’s great to have him in the cast.
You’ve said in interviews that Simone Biles opted out of the women’s gymnastics team final at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on mental health, which gave athletes a sense of peace. Did it help you deal with the pressure, especially before the Beijing Olympics? How have you learned, over the years, to deal with this pressure?
It definitely is. This set an excellent precedent. Being able to put forward the perspective that we are human is really important to us. I’m really grateful that she was able to do this.
I have been able to work with a great mental coach over the years. He gave me great advice on how to prepare my mind for the Olympics.
There were several sessions where we worked together. The main thing was to make my visualization more effective. Positive self-talk and framing of my state of mind – all of these things are really important.
It seems to have still no resolution on the status of the Olympic team medals. (No team figure skating medals – the United States won silver – were awarded, pending an investigation into the doping scandal involving Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva.) you this?
Fine. I’m disappointed for my teammates. I wish we had the opportunity at the Games. Have been [looking to see what’s happening]. Nothing has come of it yet.
You are the first Asian American skater to win national, world and Olympic titles. You’ve already talked about how much seeing Michelle Kwan’s successes meant to you growing up. Have you considered if and how you could be a voice for Asian American representation in the future?
Absolutely. I think representation itself is important. And to be able to have a diverse and great team for the Olympics is great. – for representation, not just for AAPI [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders].
What have been your favorite programs for skating over the years?
All my programs have been different. I enjoyed them all in different ways. “Rocketman” [Chen’s free-skate program at the Olympics] is higher on my list of programs I liked. There is not one in particular more than others.
What can we expect to see from you at the Stars on Ice show?
Stars is a tremendous opportunity for all of us. To have opportunities for group numbers, celebrate all the work we put into the Olympic season. It’s just a lot of fun overall. I have two solos and four group numbers.
The world of “professional” figure skating, which once featured many competitions and TV shows, has changed so much in the United States since its heyday (a few decades ago). Are shows like Stars on Ice and shows in Canada and Asia enough to offset all the expenses incurred in the sport?
Probably not. Shows and sponsorship opportunities are the main elements to provide funding to offset training expenses. We certainly incur a lot.
You plan to return to Yale in August to continue majoring in statistics and data science. Is medical school your goal?
Yeah – it’s in my line of sight. But over time, I will see where I want to go.
Have you thought about continuing to skate competitively?
I thought about it. But I haven’t come to a conclusion yet. One thing at a time.