Where EAST meets the Northwest
SENSATIONAL SKATERS. At the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January, the
phenomenal Nathan Chen (top photo) set new world records while dominating the
menís division, while the lesser-known Karen Chen (bottom photo) won the womenís
side with an incredible performance of her own. Though the two are not related,
both are united in their Asian-American heritage ó and their fluidity and
strength on the ice. (AP Photos/Charlie Riedel)
From The Asian Reporter, V27, #3 (February 6, 2017), page 8.
Two Chens dazzle at U.S. Figure Skating Championships
By Mike Street
Special to The Asian Reporter
The future of American figure skating appears to be named "Chen." At the U.S.
Figure Skating Championships in January, the phenomenal Nathan Chen set new
world records while dominating the menís division, while the lesser-known Karen
Chen won the womenís side with an incredible performance of her own. Though the
two are not related, both are united in their Asian-American heritage ó and
their fluidity and strength on the ice.
Coming into Kansas City for the championships, Nathan Chen was already well
known at the lower levels of U.S. skating. The son of Chinese parents, he had
already won the U.S. Championships four times, twice at the novice level and
twice at the junior level. But the 2016 season was his first at the senior
level, and it started out with a huge leap forward ó followed by a shattering
At the 2016 U.S. Championships a year ago, he became the first man to land
two quadruple jumps in a short program and four in a free skate, and won a
bronze medal. But just hours later, he suffered a hip avulsion during an
exhibition skate; the injury left him on crutches for two months, forcing him to
miss the World Championships.
By May, however, Chen was rehabilitating, and in November, he won a silver
medal at the NHK Trophy competition in Sapporo, Japan, becoming the youngest
medallist ever in a Gran Prix event. Chen set a similar mark a month later at
the Gran Prix Finals in Marseilles, France, winning a silver medal; he was the
second-youngest male medallist ever at that prestigious event.
Coming into the 2017 U.S. Championships, Chen was one of the favorites,
especially after 2016 champion Adam Rippon broke his foot two weeks before the
event. Chen did not disappoint. He set a new standard in menís skating by
becoming the first skater to land five quadruple jumps in competition, setting
new scoring records in the short program, free skate, and total score.
Chen didnít just set those records; he destroyed them, beating the short
program record by almost seven points, the free skate record by nearly 25
points, and the highest total score by more than 43 points. He defeated the
second-place finisher by more than 55 points ó and that silver medallist is
Vincent Zhou, a Chinese American.
With the Winter Olympics just a year away, Chen has become one to watch.
"The U.S. is back on the map at the world stage," he said after his
record-shattering performance. When asked about the possibility of winning
Olympic gold, he said modestly, "Thereís so much room that I have to improve to
make myself at that level, but I think itís definitely possible." After coming
back from such a difficult beginning to the 2016 season, Chen has shown that he
has the work ethic to get there.
While Nathan Chenís spectacular performance was not unexpected, Karen Chen
wasnít really on anyoneís radar coming into Kansas City for the U.S.
Championships. Most skating fans had their eyes on Ashley Wagner or Gracie Gold,
winners of the last five U.S. Championships, Gold being the defending champion.
In 2015, Taiwanese American Karen Chen made a splash by placing third at the
U.S. Championships, but she seemed like a flash in the pan after fizzling the
following season. She fought through injuries and problems with her skating
boots, trying 14 different pairs throughout the season, and she finished a lowly
eighth place at last yearís nationals.
But she put all that struggle behind her at this yearís nationals, starting
with a record-setting performance of her own in the short program. Her score of
72.82 was the highest ever for a female skater at the U.S. Championships. But
Mirai Nagasu, the Japanese-American skater who won the 2008 nationals, was less
than a point behind her, and Wagner trailed by less than two points.
This meant Chen would have to follow her amazing short program with a
fantastic long program to ensure victory. Chen did just that, nailing six
different triple jumps in an emotional free skate that earned her a 141.40.
"There was definitely a lot of pressure, knowing that I skated the short of
my dreams," she said. "I wanted to follow it up with a close-to-perfect long."
Nagasu and Gold performed poorly in their free skates, but Wagner put on a great
show that wasnít quite great enough: Chen barely edged her out for the victory.
Among others, Chen could thank Olympic gold medallist Kristi Yamaguchi for
her support. Yamaguchi first noticed Chen when the 11-year-old was nailing
triple jumps at a local rink in their hometown, and she has mentored the younger
skater ever since. Yamaguchi encouraged Chen to "just have fun" at the 2012
nationals, when Chen set a novice-level scoring record en route to a gold medal.
Later, she sent Chen a congratulatory text shortly after her awesome long-form
performance at the 2015 nationals.
Yamaguchi has established a winning tradition that both Chens hope to follow
at the 2018 Olympics in South Korea. Nathanís courageous strength and Karenís
graceful perfection make them formidable opponents in both the Olympics and the
many competitions held before then. We will all be watching them with interest
to see if they can build on these incredible performances and emulate
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