It is not uncommon for Yale graduate students to have resumes replete with achievements, but for Curran Oi GRD ’20, those successes extend far beyond the sphere of academia.
This past weekend, Oi competed in the U.S. Figure Skating Championships’ senior men’s event — the highest level of men’s figure skating possible — and finished 18th. Oi is also a full-time Yale graduate student working toward a doctorate in molecular biochemistry and biophysics.
“I was pleased with my performances,” said Oi of his finish in the 19-skater field in St. Paul, Minnesota. “They weren’t the best I was capable of, but I built strength during both performances to end strong and I’m proud of that.”
Oi last competed nationally in 2009, a hiatus highly unusual in the figure-skating world. That year, the then-high school senior finished sixth at the National Championships, earning him a trip to the World Junior Championships, where he placed fifth. Afterward, Oi stopped skating competitively to enroll at MIT, where he studied physics and nuclear engineering. As a student in Cambridge, he was inspired to combine science and skating to create Stats on Ice, a database that analyzes results and trends in figure skating’s international judging system.
Many of the traits that have contributed to his success on the ice have also helped him thrive in the classroom.
“Both endeavors require deliberate practice and attention to detail,” said Danielle Williams GRD ’18, a classmate of Oi’s. “Good experiments in the lab require repetition and often many attempts before achieving success, much like learning new skating techniques.”
His long program on Saturday, choreographed to music from the television series Battlestar Galactica, also had a scientific theme, meant to convey “reaching and searching through space.” Oi earned 101.4 points for the program, including 11.53 points for a clean triple lutz-triple toe loop combination.
“His long program is music that I helped him find, and I knew that [Oi] had been interested in science fiction,” Matthew Savoie, Oi’s coach and choreographer, said. “He’s [also] a very strong skater and there’s a lot of percussion in that music. [The theme] was mostly just thinking about someone who’s on a journey and inviting the people watching him along on that journey.”
Earlier last week, on Friday, Oi racked up 48.66 points for his short program to Czárdás, a “playful” piece, which Savoie hoped would complement Oi’s personality.
Few nationally competitive figure skaters pursue higher education, and for those who do, it is essentially impossible to enroll as a full-time student while still competing. Olympic ice dancing champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White are perhaps the most well-known student-athlete examples, but they have yet to complete their undergraduate degrees at the University of Michigan, nine years after they first enrolled. Others have competed while pursuing undergraduate educations at Princeton and Harvard, but it is practically unheard of for a competitive figure skater to also be enrolled in a doctoral program.
“Off the top of my head, I don’t know of another skater at the National Championships who has ever been in a Ph.D. program simultaneously with competing,” Savoie said. “I know people who have been admitted and deferred [to law school and medical school], so certainly there are a lot of skaters who have achieved great academic and skating success, but I’m not sure any have pursued both simultaneously to the extent [Oi] has.”
Savoie knows this struggle intimately, as he too skated competitively as an undergraduate at Bradley University and as a master’s student at the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign. After competing at the 2006 Turin Olympics, he retired to pursue a law degree at Cornell.
“I absolutely respect him and think everything he’s done over the past couple years is very impressive. I chose to prioritize skating a little bit more, but for [Oi], it’s different,” Savoie said. “First and foremost, he’s a Ph.D. student, and skating is something he loves to do and happens to still be very good at.”
What is also impressive is the relatively little time Oi dedicates to practicing. He skates four to five hours a week, normally the amount a competitive skater spends training per day, including one hour a week in his hometown of Wellesley, Massachusetts, to train with Savoie. He spends the rest of his training time at various rinks in the New Haven area, which occasionally includes Ingalls Rink. Although Oi represents the Yale Figure Skating Club in competition, club president Nancy Brittingham said that the club’s operations are more geared toward learn-to-skate and recreational programs.
Oi’s future skating plans are still to be decided, but he does plan to stay in the field of academia after he earns his doctorate.
“I’m not sure what the future holds for me in terms of skating,” Oi said. “I’m planning to take a week to decompress from nationals and then figure out what makes sense. If I can manage it, I’d love to compete again next year.”
The men’s event on Sunday was won by Adam Rippon, who, as a child, had corrective hearing surgery performed at Yale-New Haven Hospital.