I love watching jumps. I love doing jumps. Skating is a very beautiful sport, and I love watching new programs —Nathan Chen
SALT LAKE CITY — Nathan Chen may have missed out on prom, spirit week celebrations and yearbook signings, but the 18-year-old Salt Lake City native isn’t feeling too bad about what he experienced instead.
The figure skater became a record-breaking revoluntionary in how — and how many — programs should feature quadruple jumps. He traveled the world, beat some of the world’s best, most decorated skaters, and even wowed some of his figure-skating heroes.
“I went to online school, but, for the most part, I don’t see it as missing out,” said Chen, who returns to Salt Lake City this week to compete in the first international competition of the 2017-18 season at the Salt Lake Sports Complex. “I just had a very different life, a lot of different experiences.”
Chen was a capable skater when his parents decided to move to California five years ago so he could be coached by Rafael Arutunian. His evolution was impressive and included a third-place finish at the U.S. Championships. But his development was derailed by a painful hip injury that robbed him of the chance to compete at his first World Championships in 2016.
The injury required surgery, and Chen said the disappointment was one of the most challenging aspects of his recovery.
Less than a year after that surgery, Chen established has himself as a skater who was going to push the ideas of what was possible with quadruple jumps. The most athletic part of skating has always been his favorite.
“I love jumping,” he said. “I’ve always loved it. I love watching jumps. I love doing jumps. Skating is a very beautiful sport, and I love watching new programs.” While quads have played a prominent role in men’s figure skating for nearly two decades, the 2016-17 season saw an explosion in the number of quads and in how they were used creatively, including in sucession.
And right in the mix of innovators was Chen.
Last season, he wouldd land 20 consecutive quads in competition, and then become the first skater to land five clean quadruple jumps in a free skate and seven in competition.
The most compelling aspect of Chen’s metoric rise was that he never rested on his accomplishments. Right after landing five quads in a free skate, he attempted six in a free skate.
He landed seven quads in two programs to earn the U.S. Championship, and he was the top American at the World Championship with a sixth-place finish.
As Chen returns to his hometown, he said, his success last season gives him a sense of confidence, but he knows his biggest challenges remain in his future.
“I’ve had a lot of good experiences,” he said of his first year on the senior tour. “I know what it feels like to take a step into a more challenging category. I have had my experience, and I already know what that feels like. That’s what I personally feel confident about.”
Chen will debut a new program at the 2017 U.S. International Figure Skating Classic with Thursday’s short program. Friday, he will compete in the men’s free skate, after which winners will participate in an awards ceremony.
Chen didn’t want to discuss a lot of the specifics of his new programs, but said he relished the new challenges they present — especially with a trip to the Olympics on the line this season.
“I’m fairly confident that everything will work in my favor,” he said. “I’m working hard, and I’m going to make sure I do the very best I can at each competition.”
The federation chooses which figure skaters will represent the U.S. in South Korea in February 2018. He loves that the men of figure skating are pushing each other to do harder jumps — and more of them.
“I really like it,” he said. “This si the most logical way the sport evolves. All of the skaters are pushing each other very competitively, in a very positive way, and we’re also pushing the human body.”
U.S. International Figure Skating Classic
THURSDAY, SEPTEMBER 14, 2017, Afternoon 1:00 p.m. - Senior Dance Practice (2 groups) 2:40 p.m. - Senior Ladies Practice (2 groups) Evening 4:30 p.m. - Senior Pairs Short Program 6:30 p.m. - Senior Men's Short Program FRIDAY, SEPTEMBER 2017, Afternoon 1:20 p.m. - Senior Dance Short Dance 3:00 p.m. - Senior Ladies Short Program Evening 4:50 p.m. - Senior Pairs Free Skate 7:00 p.m. - Senior Men's Free Skate AWARDS - Pairs & Men SATURDAY, SEPTEMBER 16, 2017, Late Afternoon 4:30 p.m. - Senior Dance Free Dance Evening 6:30 p.m. - Senior Ladies Free Skate AWARDS - Dance & Ladies