Despite his coaching staff being across the country and Yale classes eating into his precious practice time, Nathan Chen ’22 remains the world’s best male figure skater.
Chen, a first year in Jonathan Edwards College, travelled to Saitama, Japan, this weekend to compete in the World Figure Skating Championships. He entered the competition as the U.S. national champion and the defending world champion, having won the title last spring. In the two-part competition, Chen emerged dominant and steady, grabbing the top score in both the short program and the free skate to become the first back-to-back American male world champion since 1984. En route to the victory, Chen toppled world records and defeated runner-up Yuzuru Hanyu, a two-time Olympic gold medalist who returned to competition in his native country after a four-month hiatus due to injury.
“Mentally, I knew that I was capable of doing two relatively clean programs,” Chen told the News. “I had been training really well heading into this competition at the Whale, and that definitely played into my confidence.”
Chen punched his ticket to the world championships earlier in the year after emerging on top in the U.S. National Figure Skating Championships in January. His decision to attend Yale as a full-time student while balancing the rigors of professional figure skating drew worldwide media attention. Throughout the season, he has trained alone at Yale’s Ingalls Rink, communicating with his coach in California through FaceTime.
In Saitama, just north of Tokyo, Chen opened the competition on top. On the first day of skating — in the short program portion — he was the night’s final skater. With no mistakes in his skate, he earned a score of 107.40, which catapulted him to first place by more than 10 points. At the end of the first day, fellow American Jason Brown sat in second with 96.81, while Hanyu ranked third with 94.87 after a mistake in a jump.
Hanyu skated immediately prior to Chen the following day, in the free skate. The Japanese skater pulled off a routine that earned 206.10 points, breaking his own world record — set in 2018 — for both the free skate and total points.
However, Hanyu’s new records did not stand for long. Chen told the News that while he had prepared for a more technically difficult program, he ultimately opted for a slight downgrade in routine difficulty to ensure clean and complete execution. He skated another mistake-free program with four quadruple jumps.
The choice to marginally decrease difficulty for consistency and control, Chen said, “played really well to my favor.” His free skate earned 216.02 and resulted in a total score of 323.43. The performance shattered the minutes-old record in both categories, and Chen stood atop the podium. Runner-up Hanyu finished with 300.97 points, while Chen’s American teammate and national runner-up Vincent Zhou rounded out the podium with 281.16 points.
For Chen, the immediate future is still up for discussion. He said that he was “excited” to get back to Yale and finish the semester, and that, for now, any decisions on training would be taken day by day and in consultation with his coaching team.
This year, Chen has focused on improving with each competition, pushing the difficulty of his routines as time goes on. He cited early season stumbles in adjusting to his new training mode but told the News that he has since learned to manage and maximize his time.
“Dean [Christina] Ferando [’97] and I are so impressed with Nathan’s performance at the World Championships, a further demonstration of his hard work and dedication to the sport,” Head of Jonathan Edwards Mark Saltzman wrote to the News. “To perform at such a high level, while engaging his first year at Yale, is truly remarkable.”
Chen is a three-time U.S. national champion.
Angela Xiao | firstname.lastname@example.org