Nathan Chen, student and skater, tries to have two parts in harmony again at world championships

Nathan Chen, student and skater, tries to have two parts in harmony again at world championships

Nathan Chen has had little down time at Yale University since the beginning of his first-year classes in late summer.

The reigning figure skating world champion had embarked in August on a journey unlike almost any other in the history of the sport. Not only was he trying to blend both full-time college studies and competitive skating, as other champions had successfully done in the past, he was trying to do it with limited input from a coach who was 3,000 miles away.

His skating practice schedule includes a one-hour round trip to a nearby rink. His courses this semester include calculus, statistics, abnormal psychology and Listening to Music.

But it’s typical of Chen that when he had a break from classes last week, he used it to take on another challenge.

He went into an empty common room at one of Yale’s 14 residential colleges and sat down at a piano that was, to be polite, in need of some TLC.

Chen, 19, later said the exercise wasn’t just for fun and relaxation but rather to see if he remembered how to play the instrument, on which he had achieved a solid level of proficiency nine years ago but played little since.

Judging from the video snippets Chen posted on Instagram, the answer is yes.

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Who will win 2019 figure skating worlds? My gold medal crystal ball perfectly clear on just one event

Who will win 2019 figure skating worlds?  My gold medal crystal ball perfectly clear on just one event

There are two ways to do figure skating predictions.

One is based on the unlikely event that the top six or so skaters or couples in every discipline skate cleanly (wouldn’t that be wonderful to see.) Predictions then are relatively simple, since one can rely on measures of past clean programs and of pure ability.

The second method factors in recent performances, injuries, the way judges have perceived an athlete or team, how the athletes have done under pressure in big events and other intangibles.  These are much more valid but also trickier, given what might happen when you combine all that information with a slippery surface, knife-blade-wide skate edges and limit-pushing, extreme sports skills.

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In men's skating, Nathan Chen now a real challenger to even the best of Yuzuru Hanyu

In men's skating, Nathan Chen now a real challenger to even the best of Yuzuru Hanyu

 All you Hanyu bots can start getting your fingers near the send button.

Because no figure skating fans get more dyspeptic than many of Yuzuru Hanyu’s if anyone dares suggest the sport’s biggest global star is not one million times better at all times than any other men’s figure skater.

And I’m saying this: the free skate Nathan Chen did in winning his third straight U.S. championship nine days ago was considerably better than any other men’s free skate in the world since Hanyu’s at the 2017 World Championships.

That 2017 Hanyu performance in Helsinki simply is the best free skate ever when one looks at it in terms of execution and difficulty of jumps (four pristine quads), quality of footwork and spins and overall level of artistry and skating skills.

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Costume drama: Jason Brown’s apparel odyssey

Costume drama: Jason Brown’s apparel odyssey

DETROIT – When Jason Brown began packing Tuesday in Toronto for his trip to Detroit for the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, he made a disconcerting discovery.

His competition costumes were nowhere to be found.

And Brown realized the only place he could have left them was the Panorama Hotel in Zagreb, Croatia, where he had stayed while winning the Golden Spin event that ended Dec. 8.

At their home in Highland Park, Illinois, Brown’s parents, Marla and Steve, immediately set out on a successful quest that seemed like an episode of “Mission Impossible,” crossing six time zones and 4,600 air miles from Detroit.

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Alysa Liu makes history but wants to make more

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Twenty-five seconds into her short program Thursday, Alysa Liu made history.

She was the first woman to land a triple Axel in the short program at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Not bad for a 13-year-old making her senior debut at nationals.

And not enough for Liu. She wants to make more.

“She definitely wants to be the youngest champion,” said her coach, Laura Lipetsky. “That’s in the back of her head.”

It won’t be easy. Liu, second after the short program, likely will need another historic performance to overcome reigning champion Bradie Tennellwho takes a 2.71-point lead into Friday’s free skate.

But one would not be wise to discount the possibility of Liu pulling it off.

For the whole story on NBCSports.Com, click here:

And for a brief story on Bradie Tennell taking command of the short program, click here: