Like most students, winter break has been good for Nathan Chen.
The 19-year-old is a freshman at Yale while he balances an ambitious skating schedule that includes the chance this week at winning a third straight title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, and – later in March – to defend his World crown.
And he hasn't missed a step. Chen leads after the short program with an impressive 113.42, which marks the highest U.S. championships score in history and a personal best.
2014 Olympic team bronze medallist Jason Brown sits in second place (100.52) ahead of 2018 Olympian Vincent Zhou (100.25).
““I want to be able to stay in the moment with what I’m doing. Every nationals is a challenge, so I’m glad I skated the way that I did,” Chen said after he lit up the Little Caesar’s Arena with a dazzling performance that included a quad flip and a quad toe loop-triple toe loop-combination.
Learning along the way
Chen has insisted that his past successes don’t change his approach to competition, but like any good student, he has learned a few things along the way.
“Everything that I’ve done good and bad in the past stays in the past,” he said. “I definitely learned quite a lot at the Olympics, and I think I learn more from my mistakes than when I skate really well. Those are the things I try to carry with me – as in the good things I learn from those.
As he completed the final jumping pass of his program, Chen made his short program look like anything but a challenge.
He came alive, moving with ease and style across the ice to the music of “Caravan.”
“Before the footwork, it’s mostly just business," he said. "Make sure I get the jumps done. Make sure that I get all the requirements with the spin in between the two jumps. And also just making sure I focus on all the right things,”
And then after that just really get into the music, try play to the audience and have a good time.”
Scratching the surface
For Brown, it was another success in a season that’s been building. The 24-year-old left long time coach Kori Ade, moving to Toronto to train with Tracy Wilson and Brian Orser.
He admits he and new team expect their plan to take 18 months to two years to fully come together, but his coaches have been impressed with how quickly change has come.
“They’re like, ‘Oh, my gosh. You’re picking things up a lot quicker than someone who has done something one way for so long," he said.
His explanation for the rapid progress is simple:
“I’m so willing to change and so open for that. So I’m kind of allowing them to completely mold me the way they want.”
Part of their strategy is to take advantage of this season’s new grade of execution rules, which play to Brown’s strength. In the short, only five of the 63 GOE marks were less than +4, and he received no negative marks.
“I really feel like the GOE that we are working for on each element is getting stronger and stronger,” he said.
Though Brown still has one more day of competition at the U.S. championships, he’s already focused on getting back to his home practice rink:
“While I really care about how I skate, I just wanna get back to work. I know there’s so much more I need to do. I know I’m just scratching the surface of what we’re really getting to.”
"I can’t wait to kind of put those pieces of the puzzle together to create what I know I’m capable of.”