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YOUNG MAN IN A HURRY


FOR NATHAN CHEN, ACTIONS SPEAK LOUDER — AND MORE OFTEN — THAN WORDS by LYNN RUTHERFORD


At Champs Camp at Colorado Springs’ Olympic Train-


ing Center (OTC) in August, almost everyone was talking about Nathan Chen. How the skater, sidelined by injury after the 2016


U.S. Figure Skating Championships, was back to nearly full strength six months after a hip injury cost him a spot on the U.S. World Team. How he had improved his daily training routine, incorporating advice from the OTC’s physical thera- pists and trainers. And how he was reeling off new quadruple jumps in practice. Almost the only one who wasn’t talking was the skater


himself. “I’d rather do the quads in competition first, and then maybe talk about them,” Chen said. Two weeks later, he landed a quad Lutz and flip at the


Golden West Championships in Ontario, California, along with a quad toe loop for good measure. Toss in the Salchows he did last season and his quad arsenal now numbers four. Chen’s preference for action over words comes as no sur- prise to those close to him. “I’ll see him after a competition and ask, ‘How did you


do?’ and he’ll say, ‘OK,’” training partner Olivia Serafini said. “And then somebody else has to tell me he skated amazing and he won. I’m like, ‘Why didn’t you tell me that?’ He’s humble. He lets his skating speak for itself.” It helps that the sport isn’t his be-all and end-all. He has


a girlfriend, a fellow skater. Living and training in Southern California, there’s the beach, and a road bike. As an online high school senior, studying is ever-present. Most of all, there’s music. “I studied piano for six years, and then I played violin


for two years,” Chen said. “Tat kind of led to electric guitar, acoustic guitar, bass guitar. I have a whole bunch of instru- ments, and that’s kind of what I do in my free time.” Serafini, who at 19 is two years older, thinks the outside


interests help Chen’s training. “We all put so much time and energy into the sport when


we’re at the rink, it’s very tiring and exhausting mentally,” she said. “So Nathan can’t always go out with friends, because he has to skate the next day, but he tries to do other things. He tries to be a normal 17-year-old guy as much as he can.” Maybe that’s because he knows a jump he worked years to


land can disappear in an instant and take months to recapture. After a decade’s steady climb, the last few years of his skating


22 NOVEMBER 2016


career have been a roller coaster. “So many things can go wrong,” Chen said. “It’s learning


how to deal with that and not let it get you down. We might think we have a really long time in the sport, but the time comes when you’re done with skating and it’s super abrupt, so I try to enjoy everything while I can.”


Early promise, fast success Chen is the youngest of five children born to Zhidong


Chen and Hetty Wang, who emigrated from Beijing to the U.S. in the 1980s. Te family settled in Utah near the Salt Lake City Sports Complex, figure skating’s practice venue for the 2002 Winter Olympics. Brothers Tony and Colin played ice hockey, while sisters


Alice and Janice figure skated. Hetty reasoned that no mat- ter which sport Nathan chose, mastery of technique couldn’t hurt, and enrolled him in skating lessons. Soon, he entered local figure skating competitions. Skating wasn’t the youngster’s only focus. He performed


piano recitals and studied dance at Salt Lake City’s Ballet West Academy, playing roles in Te Nutcracker and Sleeping Beauty. Learning to perform on cue built steady competitive nerves. “I feel like I’m able to control my nerves pretty well and


not overthink things,” he said. “I’ve been put in so many spots that I have to perform in front of a big crowd, since I was real- ly, really young, so it’s not strange to me. I can just do what I have to do.” Under coach Genia Chernyshova, Chen


quickly climbed the ranks, winning back-to- back novice titles in 2010 and 2011 before claiming junior gold in 2012. By then, he was working with renowned jump expert Rafael Arutunian, and he and Hetty re- located to Southern California. In September 2012 he won


his first Junior Grand Prix in Linz, Austria, landing a triple Axel and setting a new junior scoring re- cord. Ten his career hit its first big speed bump: a lower leg injury forced him to withdraw from his second JGP. At the 2013 U.S. Championships in Omaha, Nebraska, he lost the


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