By Claire Cloutier, special to Figure Skaters Online
Header photo by Robin Ritoss
PORTLAND, ME–It’s been quite a season for 18-year-old Nathan Chen of the United States. During 2017-18, Chen won two Grand Prix events, the Grand Prix Final, and his second U.S. National title. Then he was up and down at the Pyeongchang Olympics, where he struggled in his short programs but still took a bronze medal in the team event and won the individual men’s free skate (placing 5th overall). After his roller-coaster Olympics, Chen finished the season by winning his first World title in Milan, Italy.
There was more big news to come, as Chen announced in March that he had been accepted to Yale University. Next year will involve some significant changes for the World champion. But for now, his focus is the Stars on Ice tour, in which he’ll appear in over 20 cities across the United States. Figure Skaters Online caught up with Chen recently at the Stars on Ice show in Portland, Maine.
Chen said that he’s enjoying touring with Stars on Ice. “It’s been great. It’s been a lot of fun. Especially this year, since I’m part of the [regular] cast, which is a little bit more fun than just being a guest skater.” As a regular cast member, he performs in three group numbers in the show, in addition to his individual programs.
Chen is skating his acclaimed “Nemesis” short program in this year’s Stars on Ice. He also has a new show program to “Back from the Edge” by James Arthur. Chen said he chose his new program music while at a friend’s house after the Olympics.
“I was sitting at my friend’s, listening to music, whatever was on the radio at the time,” he recounted. “And I was like, ‘Oh, this is a cool song.'” It was a week and a half before Worlds, and Chen had not yet found a new show program for the tour. He decided to go with his instinct and skate to “Back from the Edge,” describing the song as “fun; kind of different.”
Chen choreographed the show program himself, partly because he didn’t have time in his schedule to work with an outside choreographer. He said that he’s done some of his own choreography in the past. He’s satisfied with the resulting program: “It worked out pretty well.” (The audience in Portland definitely seemed to agree.)
Chen reflected on the experience of winning his first World title last month in Milan. “It was incredible,” he said. “Especially coming off of the Olympics, where it wasn’t my greatest skate. It was nice to have that redemptive competition, and to have another opportunity to compete at a World level. It just capped off my season really well. Throughout the season, I’d been doing pretty well, so I was happy to end it like that.”
Chen said his favorite memory from the Pyeongchang Olympics was “just standing with the rest of Team USA and getting on the podium, when we got our bronze. That was pretty cool.” (Asked who his favorite celebrity was that he met at the Olympics, he said with a laugh: “Adam.”)
Chen discussed his recent decision to attend Yale. He said he was drawn to Yale for several reasons. “Yale is a really great institution, and it’s awesome that there’s a lot of rinks around Yale,” he explained. “And my agent [Yuki Saegusa] is a Yale alumna, so that helped with the decision. The campus is beautiful. I also wanted to go East Coast. And I feel like Yale is very collaborative. From the discussions with the advisors, they seem like they just want to help me succeed. So I really liked that.”
This week, Chen will attend Bulldog Days (April 23-25) at Yale. The event is “sort of like freshman orientation,” he explained. “I’ll head out there, talk to the advisors more in detail about what we’re going to do.”
Previously, Chen had expressed interest in pursuing a bioengineering or pre-med course of study in college. He’s still considering those options, but is also looking at other possibilities. “It’s awesome that I get to go in as liberal arts and figure out what I want, as time progresses, since you don’t have to go into a specific school of study [at Yale],” he noted. “It’s nice to have that opportunity. I’m thinking that I might major in economics, but still get pre-med prerequisites. That way, I can go either direction after I graduate college. But that’s something that I’ll figure out as time progresses,” he noted.
Chen confirmed his plans to combine skating and school next year. Yale “is a great opportunity for me to branch out from skating, to have something else that I can do, post-skating. And I’m really excited to try and figure out how to do both,” he said.
Looking toward next season, it appears Chen will once again face rival and 2-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who announced last week that he hopes to compete next season.
“It’s great,” said Chen on hearing the news. “I had no idea that [Hanyu] was coming back. But I was kind of expecting it anyways. I didn’t think he was going to quit that soon. He brings a lot to skating, so it’s cool for him to do that.”
Chen said that he enjoys competing against Hanyu. “In any competition, you want to have all the best skaters together, competing, really doing their best, and just seeing who can come out to win that specific day. It’s always great to have him there.”
He added that Hanyu’s presence helps push and motivate him. “You feel like someone is on your back all the time. Not that I’m ahead of him, by any means; it’s just nice to have that competition. It also pushes me to try harder things.”
Chen said that competition itself is really what drives him on a day-to-day basis. “Throughout the season, there’s competitions so frequently. The goal is the next competition, and the next competition, and obviously the long-term [goal] is the Olympics. And the World championships. Those are the things that really get me motivated.”
Chen said that, when away from the ice, he enjoys playing guitar and watching movies (especially films with actor Benedict Cumberbatch). His favorite social media is Instagram. He likes eating out and enjoys most cuisines, identifying sushi as “up there in my favorites.” He named Momofoku in New York City as one of his favorite restaurants.
Overall, though, Chen admits he doesn’t have time for much beyond skating and school right now. “Honestly, I spend so much time at the rink and I’m so exhausted [from] training all day that I just relax as much as I can and go to the beach and chill,” he said with a laugh.
As he looks toward a new chapter in his life and training next season, there is no doubt that Nathan Chen, who will turn 19 in May, will savor any opportunity to relax during this off-season.