Nathan Chen’s winning streak in the spotlight at Skate America

October 24, 2021
Nathan Chen's winning streak in the spotlight at Skate America

Let this sink in: Nathan Chen has not lost a competition since February 2018.

Talk about unbeaten streaks.

Since his disappointing sixth-place finish at the Pyeongchang Olympics, the 22-year-old Chen has won three world titles, the last three of his five U.S. championships and the two most recent Grand Prix finals. He enters Skate America this weekend as the overwhelming favourite to win his fifth consecutive gold medal.

It’s the expected first step toward what could be the crowning season for the man who has elevated the technical aspects of figure skating to the point that no jump, no spin, frankly no goal seems unattainable.

WATCH l CBC Sports’ Asher Hill breaks down Skate America:

Skate America kicks off the Grand Prix season

Skate America is happening Oct. 22-24 in Las Vegas and CBC Sports figure skating analyst Asher Hill breaks down the big stories. 6:42

Not that Chen will say so. He’s too occupied with what has gotten him to the peak, and what he must do to stay there heading toward and then at the Beijing Games in February.

“Over the past few years I had really great opportunities to compete at these competitions, and for the most part they all pretty much went to the best of my ability at that time,” Chen says. “Being at the previous Olympics did give me the new sort of insight to realize that skating — while it is incredibly important and the thing I have literally done every single day of my life since I was 3 — is also a passion project for me.

“All of that sounds a little maybe that I don’t care so much about skating, but more so skating is important, and that is what I have been doing and that is what my life has been.

“I know I have a limited number of competitions in my life and to really to just make the most out of each competition and try to enjoy myself the best I can. And when I find I am able to sort of adapt that idea, I am able to skate better, more than worrying about what the outcome might be.”

There was tremendous anticipation what the outcome might be in South Korea, and then Chen skated perhaps the worst short program of his career in the individual event. He rallied with a spectacular free skate but still fell short of the medals podium.

That hasn’t happened since, and each time he has been on the top step of that podium. The only likely challenger in Las Vegas this week is 2018 Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno of Japan, though Chen has distanced himself from Uno and his countryman, double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, in recent events.

Reflecting on 2018 Olympics

Chen doesn’t block out or discard memories of Pyeongchang. Like most elite athletes, he uses that as an educational and motivating tool.

“As for learning from the past Olympics,” he says, “… I definitely made an error in the past games in that I changed around my layout a little too much. And that is definitely something that is a necessity depending on how my body feels, how the ice feels on my boots, so many variables. The more I can narrow that down to get closer to something I feel comfortable with when it gets closer to that time, the better it will be.”

Chen performs during the men’s free skating program of the ISU World Team Trophy figure skating competition in Osaka, western Japan in April 2021. (Hiro Komae/The Associated Press)

For now, the buildup to Beijing means two Grand Prix events, the Grand Prix final he almost surely will qualify for, and nationals in early January in Nashville. Chen is on a 1 1/2-year break from school at Yale so he can keep his focus on his sport.

“You can’t control anything beside the fact being able to train the best you can and go to that competition and be the best you can that day,” he says. “Trust my training, trust who I am, trust my training and my team.”

Since 2018, that’s been a perfect formula.

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