Figure Skating

Nathan Chen seeking balance in student, skating life

AP

Nathan Chen mostly goes unnoticed when he strolls through the picturesque campus of Yale, and the few times that he can recall happened months ago during his freshman orientation.

That’s because just about everyone who attends the prestigious Ivy League school is exceptional in some way, whether they happen to be brilliant at science, a mathematical whiz or handy with words.

Or in Chen’s case, a world-class athlete.

“It’s actually been really low-key,” Chen said in a phone interview with AP from Vancouver, British Colombia, where he will defend his Grand Prix Final title beginning Thursday night.

“What I’ve done is pretty cool,” Chen said, “but everyone at Yale has done something cool.”

Maybe so. But just look at what the 19-year-old from Salt Lake City has accomplished over the past year: Chen followed his Grand Prix Final triumph with a national championship, then helped the U.S. win team gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics. After a disappointing short program in the individual competition he proceeded to land five clean quads in his free skate to vault to a fifth-place finish.

Then he headed to Italy, where he won both the short and free programs while becoming only the second skater behind two-time and reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu to eclipse 320 total points.

Chen was the youngest world champion since Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko in 2001, and was the first American to win the world championship since Evan Lysacek accomplished the feat in 2009. His margin of victory over the injured Shoma Uno was among the highest in history.

After that kind of grueling schedule, nobody would have faulted Chen, who has expressed an interest in pre-med, for taking a break. In fact, many skaters targeting the 2022 Beijing Games decided to take this year off.

But all along, Chen knew he wanted to start college in the fall — he spent most of his downtime last season writing entrance essays. Ultimately he decided to move all the way across country, from his longtime coach Rafael Arutunian and his training base in California to the Yale campus in New Haven, Connecticut, where he began knocking out prerequisite coursework while keeping up with his skating.

“It’s been a lot to try to figure out,” Chen explained, “but as each competition goes, I’ve been better able to balance the two. I’m still learning. I’m still not doing as well as I want with either of them, figure skating or school.”

Well, the figure skating part has still been exceptional.

Chen began his Grand Prix season at Skate America in Washington, where he easily won both segments to defend his title. Then he rebounded from a shaky short program that included a fall on his quad flip to win the Internationaux de France — his fifth consecutive Grand Prix gold medal.

Now, Chen will try to defend another title at the Grand Prix Final.

Hanyu, his biggest rival, announced last week that he was withdrawing following an injury to his right leg. That means Uno, the Olympic silver medalist, figures to give Chen the toughest competition in a field that also includes Russia’s Sergei Voronov and the Czech Republic’s Michal Brezina.

“It’s going to be a good competition regardless if Hanyu is here,” Chen said. “He’s a big aspect in figure skating, but I just have to focus on myself. I can only control what I can control.”

Whether that happens to be schoolwork or figure skating.

The Grand Prix Final was to begin with the men’s and women’s short programs Thursday night, and the men’s free skate caps a Friday night schedule that also includes the rhythm dance and pairs short program.

The women’s free skate, free dance and pairs free skate are Saturday.