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Nathan Chen spending summer break from Yale on tour, honing artistry

By
Emily Pacenti
Men's figure skating gold medalist Nathan Chen of the United States poses with his medal at the 2019 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, on March 23. Photo by Franck Robichon/EPA-EFE
Men's figure skating gold medalist Nathan Chen of the United States poses with his medal at the 2019 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, on March 23. Photo by Franck Robichon/EPA-EFE

April 10 (UPI) -- As the competitive figure-skating season ends, two-time world champion Nathan Chen will spend his summer vacation from Yale University performing with the Stars On Ice tour and decompressing.

The 2018-19 season was one of Chen's best ever. After last year's fifth-place finish at the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, Chen went on to win the world championships. Last month, he did it again.

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"It felt amazing. Just to get one worlds title is really a dream come true. That's why most of these athletes practice every single day of their lives to get to that stage," Chen told UPI in an interview.

Like Chen, many skaters balance higher education with competition. But many fans wondered if Chen would struggle with the transition. They needn't have worried. He started strong with a straight gold medal streak on the Grand Prix circuit, including the final.

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"It started off as a little bit of a learning curve. I didn't really get much time before the season started to figure out my situation. Within the first two weeks, I had to be completely adapted to the new schedule," Chen said. "Fortunately, Yale has given me the opportunity to practice at 'The Whale,' the rink on campus. They don't really do that for athletes, so to give me a whole hour and a half to myself is just incredible and I'm so grateful."

You wouldn't know anything had changed from watching Chen this season. The 19-year-old won gold at every event he competed in. Still, he is dogged by criticism that he lacks artistry in his highly technical programs.

Chen is known as the "quad king," famous for completing multiple quadruple jumps in his programs with high consistency. Touring this summer with Stars on Ice alongside other prominent skaters will give him the opportunity to work on the artistic aspects of his performance and connecting with the audience.

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"I definitely feel the more shows that I do, the more I start learning how to perform for audiences," Chen said. "It's nice to have opportunities not to have to focus so much on big technical elements and just enjoy the performance, enjoy the skating and hopefully through that, the audience is able to enjoy what we do, too.

"I think over the past year, from the Olympics, I have improved artistically and those are things I have focused on a lot. That being said, I still have a long ways to go and I don't want to limit myself. I can improve a lot in that regard."

A new scoring system was implemented this season that aimed to punish failed elements (like fallen jumps) more, but continue to reward risk. Chen said the new system seems to value the overall program more, but high-risk elements like quadruple jumps are still necessary.

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"But it's also important that I continue to develop my artistry," he said.

Touring also allows skaters to travel the country, often visiting cities that wouldn't often be able to see Olympic figure skaters like Chen, or his castmates -- brother-and-sister duo Alex and Maia Shibutani, Ashley Wagner, Meryl Davis and Charlie White, to name a few.

"I remember as a little kid, watching these big names come to my location ... you finally get the opportunity to see them in person," said Chen, recalling seeing skaters come to his hometown of Salt Lake City. "That left a lasting impact on me and hopefully it will be the case for younger athletes, too."

The Stars On Ice tour kicks off April 18 in Fort Myers, Fla., starring some of Team USA's most famous athletes. Find the schedule and tickets at StarsOnIce.com.

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