In three-peating as U.S. champion, Nathan Chen dazzles everyone but his coach

In three-peating as U.S. champion, Nathan Chen dazzles everyone but his coach

DETROIT – What Nathan Chen did in Sunday afternoon’s free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships looked like otherworldly brilliance to everyone who saw it.

“Honestly, it’s incredible,” said Jason Brown, who had a chance to watch Chen because Brown had skated before him.

And yet Chen’s coach, Rafael Arutunian, refused to get carried away after his skater easily became the first man since Johnny Weir in 2006 to win three straight men’s national titles.

“I am not completely satisfied,” Arutunian said Sunday. “There is so much more he can do.

“He didn’t do a quad Salchow. I still want him to try a quad loop. This was a program he has executed before. You always like to improve.”

Chen was not surprised by hearing Arutunian’s comments.

“Raf is always the overachiever,” Chen said. “That’s why I am with him. Of course, there are things I can improve on.”

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Outgoing U.S. skating president says team's poor Olympic performance scared people

Outgoing U.S. skating president says team's poor Olympic performance scared people

Samuel Auxier's four-year term as U.S. Figure Skating president ends Saturday with the election of his successor during the annual Governing Council meeting in Orlando.

Auxier, an international judge, will continue to serve the organization as past president and possibly as head of its International Committee.

With the exception of ice dance, in which U.S. couples have been consistent medal winners at junior and senior global championships for more than a decade, Auxier has presided over four years that have brought decidedly mixed results for U.S. skaters.

The 2018 Olympic Winter Games was a low point for U.S. ladies and pairs, bringing the lowest placement ever for the top U.S. woman (ninth; sixth was the previous low) and the lowest aggregate finish at any of the 16 Olympics in which the U.S. had three women entered; and the lowest placement ever for the top (and, in this case, only) U.S. pair (15th; previous low was 10th).

At 15 global championships since 2006, the U.S. has won just one singles medal at the Olympics (Evan Lysacek's 2010 gold) and four at worlds (golds by Lysacek in 2009 and Nathan Chen this year, bronze by Johnny Weir in 2008 and silver by Ashley Wagner in 2016). The U.S. has not won a ladies medal at the world junior championships since 2012 and has not had a woman at the Junior Grand Prix Final since 2013.

With all that in mind, icenetwork sat down last month with Auxier to get his thoughts on the state of the sport in the United States.

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An old debate about the young in figure skating heats up again: is it time to raise the minimum age for seniors?

An old debate about the young in figure skating heats up again: is it time to raise the minimum age for seniors?

Is it time to raise the age minimum for singles figure skaters in senior international competition?

Rafael Arutunian thinks so. The coach of the only two U.S. skaters to win senior World Championship medals since 2009 brought up the idea unprompted during our lengthy recent conversation at his training base south of Los Angeles.

For a number of reasons, including health, career longevity and competitive equity, Arutunian favors a minimum age of 18 for senior men and women rather than the current 15.

“Everyone now talks about jumping too much and people starting to damage themselves,” Arutunian said.  “How do you want to stop that?  In my mind, there is only one way: not allow them to compete (at seniors) until 18.

“If I am 12 years old, and I know real money is after 18, do you think I will do too many quads, or I will do just enough quads to win and save my body for later?”

Several other coaches and skaters contacted by phone, email or text message, including Alexei Mishin of Russia, Brian Orser of Canada and Tom Zakrajsek of the U.S., agreed with Arutunian, especially where female skaters are concerned.

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Comings, goings and questions as coach Rafael Arutunian looks to next season

Comings, goings and questions as coach Rafael Arutunian looks to next season

LAKEWOOD, Calif. -- In an upstairs locker room at Lakewood ICE, a skating facility with three rinks 21 miles south of Los Angeles, each dressing stall has a plate above it with the name of a figure skater or coach who regularly trains or teaches there.

On a recent afternoon early in what passes for the (brief) off-season in figure skating, odds and ends of clothing lay in the dressing stalls assigned to Team USA members Nathan Chen, Ashley Wagner, Adam Rippon and Mariah Bell. Michal Březina of the Czech Republic and Romain Ponsart of France have their fair share of personal belongings in the locker room as well, as do their coaches, Rafael Arutunian and Nadia Kanaeva.

Which of those skaters will be using the stalls next season remains to be seen, but one thing is certain: there definitely will be some new ones working with the only person who has coached U.S. singles skaters to World Championships medals since 2009 - Chen's gold last month and Wagner's silver in 2016.

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Coach: Chen's future health more important than skating in worlds

Coach:  Chen's future health more important than skating in worlds

Whether phenom Nathan Chen competes at either of the two world figure skating championships for which he has qualified will depend on a medical evaluation of the injury he sustained Sunday evening.

“What matters is not these worlds.  What matters is that he is healthy for the future,” Rafael Arutunian, the skater’s coach, told me by telephone Tuesday afternoon.

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