Somehow, in the midst of his freshman season at Yale, Nathan Chen has found time to escape the classroom and the study hall and the tests.
All he’s done since becoming an Ivy Leaguer is win the Grand Prix Final, a third straight U.S. figure skating championship, and repeat as world champion. Yale might have a strong hockey team, but Chen’s hat trick can’t be matched by any of the Bulldogs.
Chen chuckles when asked about achieving so much while also carrying a hefty workload in school.
“It is challenging,” he says, “but I knew it would be.”
And now that the competitive season is over — Chen helped the United States to a first-place finish in a world team event last weekend — he can have some downtime, right?
Well, he could. Instead, he’s fitting in appearances with the Stars on Ice tour , which launches Thursday night in Fort Myers, Florida. He will, however, skip some stops on the 13-city tour to take class finals. He is, after all, a full-time student.
“It will be a challenge because of exams and other things, but most of the shows are East Coast- based and I can travel to school and back to the show,” he says. “Yeah, I am taking a gap for finals, but ultimately (the grind) is not too much of a concern.
“It’s really nice that we have so many top skaters in Stars on Ice, so I am not part of the cast this year based on my schedules. It would definitely impact the cast if they had to take me out of some (routines). It’s a better idea to do my numbers separately. Besides, with all they have accomplished, they are a great cast.”
That includes 2014 Olympic champion ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White, world bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, and world silver medalists Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue.
Still, the fact Chen, who turns 20 next month, is participating on the tour after a full season of competition and the Yale workload is somewhat astounding.
But he’s worked out a regimen for practices in New Haven, chats “all the time” with coach Rafael Arutyunyan, and really hasn’t missed a beat — or a quad — since his fiasco of a short program at the 2018 Olympics that likely cost him a medal.
Chen has been a winner at everything he has entered since the Pyeongchang Games, where his outsized performance in the free skate nearly overshadowed the medalists as he rallied to finish fifth.
“Anytime there is no Olympics, it’s a completely different situation,” he says. “For the Olympics, there is a buildup to the games for four years. And it’s even more evident when you are thinking about that specific Olympics in that year. Now is the time to be improving, there’s less fine-tuning, more bold improvement and we’ve been able to achieve a lot of that this year. Ultimately, I am really happy with the season.”
The 2018-19 was highlighted by a pressure-packed showing by Chen at worlds in Japan last month. Leading after the short program, he was scheduled on the ice just after national hero Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion. Hanyu was sensational; Chen cracked that the fans’ celebration after Hanyu’s routine — they throw Winnie The Pooh dolls onto the ice — featured “more Pooh Bears than I knew existed. It was incredible to see so many Pooh Bears on the ice.”
Chen didn’t crack in his skating, though, and easily skated off with gold.
“It was awesome,” he says. “It’s really nice to be able to see that number of people really enjoy the sport the athletes love so much. The reception was insane. Stepping on the ice, it is a little breathtaking to see all those people in a triple-decker rink, filling so many seats and making so much noise.
“I was able to feel that energy from the audience and that they were expecting or wanting a good performance out of me.”
He delivered, becoming the first American since 1984 to repeat as men’s world champ. The last was Scott Hamilton, who coincidentally founded Stars on Ice.
Reminded of that connection, Chen noted that “Scott won four in a row. I have a ways to go.”