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Nathan Chen Readies for his Skate America Debut

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It has been a steady rise to the top for U.S. Champion Nathan Chen. Nathan won his first U.S. title in January and may be the best chance that the U.S. has of scoring an Olympic men’s figure skating medal. Chen is still in pursuit of making the Olympic Team, but he is certainly on the right track.

This is Nathan’s second senior Grand Prix season. Last year he qualified for the Final after placing fourth at Trophee de France and securing the silver at the  NHK Trophy. He  won the silver at his very first Grand Prix Final. This year he has his sights set on the Grand Prix Final once again, but is also looking towards the Olympic Games in February.

“I have planned my entire season around February so that I can maximize myself in that period of time,” Nathan said during a teleconference on November 15. “At the same time, if I overthink that and I start just dreading it, it’s kind of pointless and it’s [the Olympic Games] something that has motivated me my entire life. I’m just trying to continue to use that motivation to get me through these next events and hopefully make that [Olympic] Team.”

Chen has only watched Skate America on television, so he is excited to actually compete in the event this year. Nathan will not only be aiming to make it onto the podium, his performance at Skate America will determine if he does in fact qualify for the Grand Prix Final in December.

An open door at the Grand Prix Final

Usually the top 6 men in the world compete at the Grand Prix Final as a preview of the Olympic Games. This year is a little different.  Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu was injured during a practice prior to the NHK Trophy last weekend and was forced to withdraw. It is reported that Hanyu will need three to four weeks to recover. After winning the last four consecutive Grand Prix Finals, Yuzuru will not be competing at all.

Three-time world champion Patrick Chan also withdrew from the NHK Trophy, meaning that he will not qualify for the Final as well. To complicate matters further, two-time world champion, Javier Fernandez had the stomach flu when he competed at his last Grand Prix event and he finished in sixth place. This basically means that 3 out of the 6 top men in the world will not be competing in the Final. So how does Nathan feel about that?

“It’s a shame that they are not going to be at the Final and this time will be totally different,” Nathan said. “I feel like I have a high chance of making that Final again and without Yuzuru and Javi that definitely opens up the podium at the Final and Patrick…I’m hoping that Yuzuru heals fast and everyone is able to be one hundred percent by the Olympics.”

Though it is disappointing that Chen will not have the opportunity to compete against all of his top competitors heading into the Games, it does open the door for him to once again land on the podium at the Final. The U.S. has not had a man win gold at the Grand Prix Final since Evan Lysack  won in 2009.

Nathan Chen’s impact is growing

This type of excitement is just what U.S. figure skating could use heading into the Olympics. Nathan has already managed to make history twice. Chen became the first man to land five quads in one free skate and he also became the first man to land all five different quad jumps in international competition. This was a big accomplishment for Nathan and it is starting to draw new fans to the sport.

“I’m glad that I’m helping figure skating in the U.S. kind of blossom forth a little bit more than it has in the past,” Nathan said when asked about his impact on the sport in the U.S. “I’m glad that with my technical arsenal I’m able to bring some interest back to skating in the U.S., but ultimately it will come down to what I do at the Games. I just need to focus on myself, I need to focus on my goals, I need to focus on what I know I can accomplish. I think in doing that it will bring even more interest to figure skating in the U.S.”

Before Nathan can think about the Olympics, he first needs to skate well at Skate America and qualify for the Grand Prix Final. Next Chen will be focused on the Grand Prix Final and the U.S. Championships. If he continues to excel, there is no doubt that he will make the Olympic Team. It is then that he can fix his gaze solely on becoming an Olympic medalist.

For most athletes this type of pressure would be overwhelming, but Nathan seems to thrive on it. He is one of those rare people that are driven and yet maintains an overall relaxed vibe. It may be Nathan’s Skate America debut, but it would not be surprising to see him on the top of that podium taking his next step toward his ultimate dream.

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