On Karen Chen's first Olympics and Frank Carroll's last

Denis Ten and Frank Carroll at the 2016 World Championships.

Denis Ten and Frank Carroll at the 2016 World Championships.

(This is a combined notebook with my Ice Network colleague Lynn Rutherford.  She wrote about Chen, and I about Carroll.)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Mirai Nagasu was the star of the U.S. ladies press conference Sunday at the Main Press Center in PyeongChang, deservedly basking in the glow of the triple axel she landed in her team event free skate and fielding questions on everything from her stint as an Colorado Avalanche Ice Girl to conversations with fans on Twitter.

Chen didn't mind. The Fremont, California, teen is happy Nagasu is enjoying her team bronze medal and is content to go about her business away from the media spotlight.

And it's a good thing Chen likes training in relative obscurity, because after marching in the opening ceremony and testing the ice a few times at Gangneung Ice Arena, the U.S. bronze medalist relocated to Chuncheon, several hours away from the Olympic action. There, she spent a week largely on her own while her longtime coach, Tammy Gambill, spent much of her back time in Gangneung with students Vincent Zhou and Yaroslav Paniot of Ukraine.

"I was actually there by myself, all alone," Chen said. "[Tammy] did come in for a few of my practices, so she was going back and forth. It was kind of sad; I felt all alone at the rink all by myself. At least I was able to play my music whenever I wanted to, and I was able to play my favorite playlist, so overall I was happy."

According to Chen, it was also beneficial: With three hours of ice time each day, she could run programs and sections at will and train into peak condition.

"I really wanted to be at the (Olympic) village and around all of the athletes, but I realize I am willing to do anything I have to do to have my best skates at the right time," Chen said. "Going there for a solid week and putting in a lot of training time and solid hours on the ice was exactly what I needed."

Chen won the 2017 U.S. title with sparkling programs she choreographed herself to music from On Golden Pond (short program) and "Jalousie Tango" (free skate), the same routines she is using in PyeongChang. But this season so far has been a struggle, with multiple changes of programs and a flu-like illness at the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships that sapped her strength.

Both Chen and Gambill think the week of training at Chuncheon marks a turning point for the skater.

"I've been seriously feeling the best I've ever been," Chen said. "My practices yesterday and today were feeling really solid. My jumps felt great. I know at nationals I wasn't feeling so well; my goal was to make the (Olympic) team. Now that I'm here, I'm so thrilled I'm able to have this experience. I'm ready to make myself an Olympic moment I'll never forget."

"Karen is skating far better than she was at nationals," Gambill said. "She's getting stronger every day."

Competing against the likes of Olympic Athletes from Russia Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova -- not to mention Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond, Italy's Carolina Kostner, and Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto of Japan -- Chen, Nagasu and Tennell will need to be at their absolute best to have any hope of winning a medal.

"I feel like, yes, media has really given [the Russian ladies] this name where they are unbeatable," Chen said. "It is true, but it also isn't. Yes, they are very consistent, very solid and probably have the best shot getting gold and getting on the podium. But ice is really slippery, and things happen. There is always a chance for other people to get on the podium."

- Lynn Rutherford

Carroll bows out early in Olympic farewell

Frank Carroll's 12th and final Olympics as a coach ended a day earlier than expected.

Although the premature finish owed to the misfortune of his last Olympic student, Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, it turned out to be advantageous for Carroll, 79, who left for home in Southern California on Saturday, the day after Ten failed to qualify for the free skate.

"I'm sick as a dog," Carroll wrote in a text message Sunday, calling his illness "cold-like but getting worse."

Ten, the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist and two-time world medalist, placed 27th of 30 in Friday's short program. Only the top 24 made Saturday's free skate.

His poor performance was not a surprise, given the foot problems that have plagued Ten since the 2015-16 season and were exacerbated by a severe ankle injury suffered last August. Ten, 24, said Friday it was painful even to put on skating boots.

"It has been incredible," Carroll said of his Olympic coaching career.

"The first, at Sapporo 1972, my skater was an alternate and did not skate. The last, in 2018, my skater was defending bronze medalist and did not get to the free skate.

"Sounds like a disaster, but it has been anything but. Seven Olympic medals, and all colors. I have had triumph and disaster, but my memories of all 12 Olympics are positive, and I am proud."

At the Vancouver Games in 2010, Evan Lysacek became Carroll's only Olympic gold medalist, ending the coach's frustration with an upset win over reigning Olympic champion Evgeni Plushenko of Russia.

"That was my Olympic highlight, of course," Carroll said. "It was so unexpected at that point."

Two of his skaters, Linda Fratianne and Michelle Kwan, were reigning world champions heavily favored for gold in 1980 and 1998, respectively. Both won silver.

At the 1980 Olympics in Lake Placid, the rumor goes, deals were made to give Robin Cousins of Great Britain the men's gold medal over Jan Hoffmann of East Germany in return for letting Anett Pötzsch of East Germany beat Fratianne.

In 1998 at Nagano, the freewheeling Tara Lipinski surprised Kwan for the title.

Carroll would go on to work with Kwan until she abruptly left him, for reasons never made public, four months before the 2002 Olympics in Salt Lake City. Her father, Danny, then assumed the role of coach at those Games.

Carroll said he counts Kwan's bronze in Salt Lake City among the medals his students won because "I trained her that year and did her program."

Carroll's other Olympic medalists were Timothy Goebel (bronze, 2002) and Gracie Gold (team bronze, 2014).

- Philip Hersh

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)