The current ISU Four Continents Champion discusses his first World Championships, quads and the upcoming World Team Trophy.
Q = interviewer (Tatjana Flade for ISU), NC = Nathan Chen
Q: You just finished sixth in your debut at the World Championship. What do you take from your first Worlds?
NC: I pushed myself quite a lot in this competition (Worlds). I tried a lot of new things, made a lot of mistakes and learned a lot from it. I guess the competition wasn’t as bad as I envisioned it after the competition was over. Of course, I’m disappointed with how things went and I wanted to skate clean programs, potentially (be on the) podium. But since that didn’t happen, it’s okay. It’s my first Worlds and I guess part of the process, getting the experience to compete at a World Championship and just move on from here. We’re trying to identify all the mistakes that I made this season, even if they are little mistakes or big mistakes so that next season we’ll have an even stronger plan going into the season. We have started doing the planning process, when do I go to California, when do I go to have my programs done, all my shows. We started timing all that together. That all will continue to build and right now we have a good baseline.
Q: How do you feel about the upcoming World Team Trophy?
NC: The World Team Trophy is something that I’ve always wanted to go to. It will be an honor to be there. It is very soon, so I would have to properly plan with my coach on what I really want to do in terms of my jumps. I definitely want to put out a cleaner program and still get experience. It will be great to be able to perform in Japan again which is always a great center of skating.
Q: You are the current “quad king”. At Four Continents you landed five quads, and in Helsinki you even attempted six quads in your Free Skating. Will you continue like that?
NC: Doing the quads I’m doing right now and even adding on to six was just a decision that I think was made, because I wanted to continue to improve myself, to push myself. There will come a time when I can’t do a big number of quads. But in the meantime… I had a discussion with my coach (Rafael Arutunian) about stuff like this. I still want to follow the route pushing my jumps. Obviously, it’s relative to how I am during the season, how my body is. We’ll set a plan. I’ll continue through practices and training to push it and see how far I can go. In the meantime, during competitions, I will properly approach the competition, without making it really risky without any reward.
Q: You won Four Continents, which was your biggest victory this season.
NC: Yes, it was a big win. The Final definitely motivated me and gave me the idea that I’m technically competitive with these guys. I never felt that way throughout the beginning of the season. So that gave me a lot of motivation, a lot of energy going into Nationals. Nationals was something I needed to set up for myself, to make sure that I was able to do these (quads). I didn’t necessarily need to do the number of quads that I did, but it was something that I wanted to prove to myself. Going into Four Continents, it wasn’t the peak of my season, so I wasn’t sure about the number of quads I’ll do, but when the time came I was motivated by these guys and I decided to throw them in and it played out for me. I think it’s a great experience to be able to compete against these guys and then do the number of quads that I’m doing, with all the nerves and the different sorts of pressure I’ve never dealt with before.
Q: Why do you feel you might not be competitive at the beginning of the season? You did your quads already at Finlandia Trophy last October.
NC: Finlandia was motivating, but the thing was everyone was making a lot of mistakes, so I didn’t know exactly how I would rank up against these guys up here. Also, last year, after Nationals, not because of the injury, but because of the placement that I got with the two Salchows and two toes, it kind of disheartened me a little bit and I wasn’t sure where I would stack up against these big guys even with the jumps that I had. I didn’t think I would end up third (at Nationals), obviously I fell in the long, but I didn’t think I would be that low. That made me a little timid going into the season and then as things started …, even after the short program in France (at Trophee de France) I was like ‘I could see where I can stack up – and things progressed more and more.
Q: I remember you as a junior skater and you even didn’t always so a triple Axel. Where do all these quads suddenly come from?
NC: I’ve just been fortunate to be able to work with very, very good technical coaches including Rafael. And he really developed me properly, so that my technical is so strong so that by the time I started having the power – I grew up to have the power – the quads would come quite easily. Axel is the jump I always struggled with, even now I struggled with the triple Axel. My triples were always pretty consistent when I was younger. It is fortunate, like I said that I have all these people, these resources help me.
Q: How do you balance jumps and artistry?
NC: It’s difficult. In terms of artistry, if you completely take away jumps, I think I can match up with a lot of the other skaters, but adding all the quads really pulls back on that side of my skating and it makes it more difficult to get through the program. But it is something that I’m working on and hopefully I will show both, jumps and artistry. Even after the first two quads, the Lutz and the flip my energy is pretty drained already, so it’s basically just recovering really quickly and then trying to go for the next two and then the next two and the next two (jumps). I don’t know how much (quads) I put in, because I don’t know how my body feels that day. Maybe I didn’t get the sleep that I need, maybe something is off, something is hurting a little bit. So the plan can always be changed.
Q: When you were younger you had good results thanks to your skating skills and programs. Do you feel now that the focus moved too much to the quads? Do you regret that?
NC: Not so much, honestly. When I was younger, yes, I had to rely on all that stuff to get me up to the podium. And now I have these quad that can kind of do that for me. But at the same time, I’m always trying to push myself and doing the quads is why I see myself pushing myself and I’m thinking, of course the quads take out a lot of energy and that’s kind of what pulls my components down a little bit, but I feel like as I get more used to these quads and as I grow more as a skater, the components will catch up with me. It’s difficult to throw in that number of quads and try to catch it, but at the same time I feel like the most important things are the technical aspects of skating, that is where the big money comes from. The components will be something we continue to work but, right now the focus is on technical things. I love quads. I mean, that’s what drew me to skating in the first place. Watching Tim Goebel and watching Plushenko in 2002, the jumps would draw me in. I always just loved jumps and I think it shows (laughs).
Q: So that’s why you started, because you were watching them?
NC: Plushenko was my first skating idol, when I watched 2002 Olympics, of course Yagudin was …. I was two, three (years old), something like that. That’s when I really started skating, too. But I just remember watching them, being blown away by quads.
Q: Did you want to skate, because you wanted to do what they were doing?
NC: Actually, I wanted to be a hockey player, when I first started but my mom said, ‘try figure skating first’ and I just kind of started figure skating.
Q: Are there any other athletes in your family?
NC: No, they’re all academically, like amazing. They all did sports when they were younger, but just recreationally and for fun.
Q: Are you also studying?
NC: Yes, I’m a senior in high school. I have one more semester, then I’m done with high school and I’ll take a gap year next year to do the ACT SET things for college and then after 2018 I’ll decide what to do. I definitely will apply for college, in 2019 depending on which I want to go to.
Q: What would you like to study in college?
NC: I believe that I will major pre-med and minor business that I can have both ends of the spectrum.
Q: Why are you interested in medical school? Because of all your injuries?
NC: I suppose, I’ve always been around that stuff (laughs). My dad has a MD and my sister was in med school, pre-med as well. It’s just kind of something that’s running through my family and I think it’s something that I picked up on.
Q: How do you balance your school and private life with your skating?
NC: It’s difficult. I spend so much time in the rink and at the gym that by the end of the day like I honestly don’t even want to (do something else), I just want to go to sleep. Over the weekend we have limited ice, also my training program is low on the weekend, so that’s when I get time to spend time with my friends. School just basically fits in whenever it is possible. I do online school. So even before I was competing (at Four Continents) I was doing a tiny little bit.
Q: As you were dealing with injuries quite often, was there a point when you wanted to stop skating?
NC: Not really. Injuries were always there, but the amount of time that I was on the ice still trumped the injuries that I had. I love skating, it’s part of my life and I never wanted to give it up. And I never really thought I would give it up.
Q: How hard was it to come back from your hip surgery last year?
NC: It was actually pretty easy. I was so fortunate to have the US Olympic Committee full support behind me. As soon as I got injured I got support from them to get the surgery, and then I got help from them like a week later. They basically couldn’t do much, it was just me lying in bed, they still made sure that someone could see me. I was very fortunate to have that. They just really put me into the mindset, recover quickly, not like ‘oh, you’re missing the season’, but ‘we’re looking to the next season, we’re looking for the following season’. It wasn’t really too bad.
Q: How much do you worry that you might get injured again and what do you do to prevent injuries?
NC: With the time I spent off at the Olympic Training Center I was very fortunate to have all the resources I had and all the people at the Olympic Training Center educated me well for the season, which has been definitely been showing, I hadn’t had anything major, knock on wood, so far. We’ve just developed better programs, we’ve developed better recovery, pre-work out routines and better work out routines, so I’ve had a lot of things that I never really had before, which proved caused a lot of my injuries. As well as when I was younger I had a lot of growth problems. Not problems with my growth, but growth injuries. I had Osgord-Schlatter, then I had a problem with my heel and the hip was also a growth-related injury. So most of my injuries were all related to growth plates. But fortunately I’m almost done growing so I’m hoping that these kind of injuries won’t happen anymore.
Q: You’ve been working with Marina Zueva in Canton and you train with Patrick Chan when you are there. How is that for you
NC: I went there to work on my program components. Initially I just went there to get the short program done, I wanted to find someone new I’ve never really worked with and I really noticed the Shibs (ice dancers Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani, USA) skate and I thought their choreography was great and I decided to check her (Marina Zueva) out for a little bit and see what she’s like. As soon as I went there we kind of clicked. She is very positive, very open and warm. So I spent a good portion of the beginning of the season there, training with Patrick. He is a very, very positive, a great guy. He has a lot of experience on his shoulders and he is honestly one of the most positive skaters I’ve skated with. He never really takes competition as something that will try to bring me down. It doesn’t really affect our relationship. We’ve been good friends.
Q: What is your character like?
NC: Pretty shy. I’m not really trying to get out of my way to be outgoing, but I try to be a little bit more. I’ve just always been super shy, but with my friends I’m pretty outgoing, pretty casual. I tend to be a little bit more quiet and just to myself, I’m a little bit more introverted than extroverted.
Q: How do you deal with all the attention you’re getting now?
NC: It’s different. I’m just kind of learning how to deal with it. In terms of like interviews, I used to struggle a lot with interviews, I never knew what to say. As I’ve done more, it definitely helps, teaches me how to do interviews and I think that’s something that will help me in the future. It’s not too much of a struggle, honestly. I’m fortunate to have a really great agent and people that can set up these interviews at proper times so that it doesn’t really distract my training schedule.
Q: Your family comes originally from China, as far as I know. How good is your Chinese?
NC: Not so good. My Chinese name is Chen Wei. I can speak a tiny, tiny bit, just basically get around, but I understand it decently well. My mom speaks like a mix of Chinese and English, it’s not full Chinese, that’s why some words I really don’t pick up on. Both parents came from China. I have two brothers and two sisters and initially, when my two sisters were really young, they spoke full Chinese, but as my brothers came and as time went on they kind of switched from Chinese to English and they kind of lost it, unfortunately for me. Of course, it’s a good thing to have.
Q: If you were sent off to an isolated island, which three things would you take?
NC: My phone, for sure, probably a guitar and … I don’t know, the last thing is hard. I think I’m obligated to say skates (laughs).
Q: Where do you see yourself in five years from now?
NC: In five years from now … depending on how my body reacts to the next years, slash how I do the next season, within after the end of five years I definitely want to be basically finishing off and I want to be relatively close to finishing school as well, hopefully starting to prepping myself for med school. I’m not sure. I’ll still be super young, so we’ll see. But it really depends on how things go next season and how my body holds up and also what my aspirations are in terms of school.
Q: Thank you very much for the interview and good luck for your next competitions.