SAITAMA – Defending world champion Nathan Chen will attempt to do something no American man has done since 1984 when he takes the ice at this week’s world championships.
No male singles skater from the U.S. has repeated as world champion since Scott Hamilton did it in 1983-84. It was actually the last two years of four straight victories for the 1984 Olympic gold medalist.
The 19-year-old Chen, who won the world title last year in Milan, Italy, in the absence of two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, was asked if he felt any additional pressure coming into the competition as the defending champ.
“Not really. Every competition is different. Everything I did is in the past, good or bad,” Chen told Ice Time following Monday’s official practice. “I’m excited for this worlds. Hopefully I can use what I did in the past to help me sort of prepare. As of now all I can focus on is getting myself as physically ready as possible.”
With the new scoring system being instituted this season, I wondered if Chen had numerical targets in mind for his scores this week.
“No. All I can do is put out two clean programs or as clean as I possibly can do and just see what the judges give me,” Chen commented after working on his free skate to “Land of All.”
Chen, a native of Salt Lake City, is currently a freshman at Yale University in New Haven, Connecticut, which presents challenges for him trying to balance his studies and skating.
The rink Chen trains at is a 40-minute drive from the school, but he informed me that he is also allowed to practice at the school rink for a while each week.
Ice Time asked Chen how his time at Yale has been so far.
“It’s been a good experience. I’m really enjoying myself at school,” Chen remarked. “I have made a lot of friends. I’m really having a good time.”
I inquired if people recognized him on campus or mostly left him alone.
“I’m surrounded by Oscar winners. I’m surrounded by other amazing athletes and people that are doing amazing things with their lives outside of sports,” Chen noted. “Because there are so many amazing people, you end up just being one in a million.”
Before getting on the plane for Japan, Chen spoke to the American media on a conference call last Friday.
“I’ve been training pretty well for worlds,” Chen said. “Things have been going really well between nationals until now. I haven’t really changed too much of what I have been training. It’s spring break now so I can really focus on skating.”
Chen has not skated competitively since winning the U.S. nationals in January. He skipped the Four Continents to focus on school.
“It was a nice little break,” Chen stated. “It was nice for me to be able to focus a little more on school. I had midterms during Four Continents. It was nice not to have to worry about having to balance the competition and midterms.”
Chen claimed he has not altered his training since nationals.
“In terms of training, nothing has really changed that much,” Chen commented. “I still follow my general plan, my general structure. I talk to Raf (coach Rafael Arutunian) about it. I basically follow those trends.”
Chen is planning to skate the same programs he used at nationals this week.
“It’s basically going to be identical to nationals,” Chen remarked. “I have not been training for anything else.”
Chen, who won Skate America, the Internationaux de France and the Grand Prix Final this season, has been pleased with his efforts so far and thinks he is on the right trajectory.
“That’s always my goal every season. I want to be able to improve to some degree from competition to competition,” Chen said. “Improve other things that I didn’t do so well. Continue to push myself technically.
“It’s been more evident in the short program. Each one got better and better. I’m happy about the progression. I hope that continues to improve during worlds and further on during the season.”
Chen was questioned about his possible participation in next month’s World Team Trophy in Fukuoka.
“I would love to go back to Japan for the World Team Trophy. It is always an honor to be able to compete in Japan,” Chen said. “If everything permits, I will definitely do it.”
Chen was queried on the call about his decision to go to college.
“It was an experience that I didn’t want to give up on before I even tried it,” Chen commented. “I’m really glad that I gave myself the shot to attempt both. Skating has been going well to, so I can’t complain.”
A question of interest that came up during the call focused on whether he would return to Yale next fall or take a year off to fully concentrate on skating.
“I haven’t made any decisions yet. I still have all summer to decide,” Chen answered. “The deadline for withdrawing from next semester is much further on down the line. I don’t have to worry about it now. Right now my focus is on worlds.
“I will take some summer courses. Everything is still very up in the air,” Chen continued. “I will also continue to talk to my advisers. Right now I’m not too concerned about it. It could go either way.”
Chen does not feel pressure to make a quick decision on the issue.
“I will definitely think about it more after worlds and the summer starts,” Chen stated. “I will also talk to Raf and see what the best case is for me.
“My skating is a team effort, so I have to make sure everybody is on board with my decision.”
Chen did admit that the result at the worlds could impact his path this coming fall.
“It will factor into it to some degree. It’s too early to say what I’m going to be doing,” Chen remarked. “My future is my future. I can always find time to continue with my education. Skating definitely has more of a timeline or more of an end date.”
Victorious in Luxembourg
Sena Miyake won the senior men’s competition at the Coupe de Printemps in Luxembourg on Sunday with a total score of 183.62 points. The victory was good news for the 17-year-old Okayama native, who has been struggling through a tough season.
Junior Rinka Watanabe, a 16-year-old from Chiba, won the women’s event on Saturday with a tally of 153.29. Watanabe finished fourth at this season’s Japan Junior Championships in November.
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