In their first year, most Yalies adjust to the rigor of college schoolwork, meet new people and figure out how to be away from home for the first time. For Nathan Chen ’22, that adjustment has also included continuing to compete as the country’s best male figure skater.
Chen, a first year in Jonathan Edwards College, extended his streak atop the United States’ figure skating circuit by winning his third consecutive title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships by a landslide this past weekend. Competing in Detroit at the two-day competition with the highest stakes he has faced since coming to New Haven, Chen jumped out to a lopsided lead after his short program. He then nailed a four-quad long program on Sunday evening to further extend his runaway margin of victory — with 342.22 points, he led first runner up Vincent Zhou by 58.21 points. Spectators will next see Chen in March, when he will travel to Japan to defend his world championship.
“Different unknowns really added up at the beginning of the season, so coming into nationals I didn’t really have that many expectations,” Chen told the News. “I knew that I was capable of a good skate. … Results really were not my priority — I just wanted to put out a clean skate.”
Chen’s triumphant performance at nationals came after he became the first man to land six quads — jumps with at least three revolutions — in a free skate and walked away with a team bronze medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic Games last year. Chen is also currently the reigning world champion and has since won two grand prix assignments and the Grand Prix Final before completing his first year of college.
At nationals, Chen ended the first day of competition on Saturday with a sizable lead thanks to a short program with two quads. Collecting 113.42 points, he emerged considerably ahead of both Jason Brown and Zhou, who scored 100.52 and 100.25 on their respective short programs.
Chen again displayed his dominance the next day, when he performed a free skate program with four quad jumps to Woodkid’s “Land of All.” NBC’s lead figure skating analysts Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir, who both own national titles, repeatedly commented on Chen’s elegance on the ice. After Chen landed an early quad flip, Lipinski said “he makes it look so easy.”
The program earned him uproars from the audience and 228.80 points — more than the two-event total score for most of his competitors. Of the 20 skaters in the elite field, 14 finished with fewer points than Chen’s free skate alone.
“Every competition comes out with a different set of scores,” Chen said. “But I definitely was not expecting the score to be that high. However, I’m really proud of the skate that I put out. At least from the technical perspective, and even the program perspective, I thought I did a good job on both regards. I’m really happy with my score.”
Yale does not have a varsity figure skating team, and Chen is not affiliated with the club Yale Figure Skating Team. But Chen’s success at Yale has turned into a high-profile example of an exceptional athletic and academic balance for a student-athlete.
With classes and scheduling demands, Chen approaches each practice at Ingalls Rink knowing that he doesn’t have the time to “dilly-dally.”
“Dean [Christina] Ferando ’97 and I are so impressed with Nathan’s performance,” Head of Jonathan Edwards College Mark Saltzman said. “We understand all of the hard work and dedication that lies behind it. That he accomplished this while engaging his first semester at Yale makes it all the more remarkable.”
During the semester, Chen practices alone and across the country from his California-based coach Rafael Arutyunyan.
His win at nationals extended his status as the country’s top skater — despite the new challenge of training alone on the ice at The Whale and balancing his career with the demands of an Ivy League education.
“It’s exciting to see that he’s been able to maintain his success in the sport since coming to Yale,” the heads of the Yale Figure Skating Team told the News in a joint statement. “Juggling school and athletics here is very challenging, so it’s crazy that he can do it at that level. Although he’s not a member of our team specifically, it’s cool that he’s putting a name out there for Yale figure skating.”
Chen, Zhou and Brown will represent the United States in the men’s competition at the World Championships in March.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org
Correction, Jan. 29: A previous version of this said that NBC commentators Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski both own national and Olympic titles. In fact, only Tara Lipinski has won both.