by Liz Leamy
Nathan Chen at US Nationals Practice Session
(13 January 2021) Nathan Chen, the four-time U.S. gold medalist and two-time World champion is as amped as ever to compete this week at the 2021 U.S. Championships in Las Vegas, where he is seeking to clinch a fifth consecutive U.S. title, an achievement that could put him in the history books as one of two American athletes to accomplish this astonishing feat - the other being the iconic Dick Button, the seven-time U.S. champion and two-time Olympic gold medalist.
For this talented and dedicated 21 year-old Salt Lake City native, it’s all about staying focused and just doing his job.
“I’m looking forward to competing. I’ve prepared as best as I can,” said Chen, who has been living in Irvine, California close to his training base, the Rinks in Lakewood, during much of last year leading up to Nationals where he trains with Rafael Arutyunyan, his longtime coach. “I’m grateful to have this opportunity to skate and compete.”
This is certainly a loaded statement considering how monumentally the Coronavirus pandemic has affected so many individuals on a global, national and local level, designating this as a time in which just having the opportunity to skate is considered a true privilege.
“I don’t think there’s much to complain about,” said Chen, who is also a three-time Grand Prix Final champion.
In prepping for the 2021 U.S. Championships, Chen has been working through the many challenges and situations of the times at what appears to be quite an effective and optimal level.
An enrolled junior at Yale University, Chen moved to Irvine last year to train full time with Arutyunyan as he went about figuring out his life during a time of such uncertainty and so many changes.
Last March, when pretty much everyone went into quarantine on a worldwide level due to the Coronavirus, Chen had been attending and living at Yale in New Haven, Connecticut and had been doing lessons with Arutyunyan via Facetime when he skated at the iconic Yale Whale Arena and other ice facilities in and around that area.
That same month, Chen, who had just clinched his fourth U.S. title and was preparing to compete at the 2020 World Championships in Montreal (which were cancelled due to the pandemic), wound up moving back to his family’s home in Salt Lake City where he and his family laid low for several months.
During that time, he completed his second semester sophomore courses online, an experience that he said initially challenging, but a forum he eventually learned to adapt to.
“Wrapping up my second semester online wasn’t my favorite, but I did it,” said the Chen, who took courses in chemistry and business, among other subjects.
Going into 2021, Chen said it’s all about staying as positive as possible and focusing on the big picture.
“The  Olympics are coming up and it’s a year-plus to the Games,” said Chen. “I’m [happy to be] able to train right now and solely focus being on the ice.”
Chen said he would be very happy if the 2021 World Championships, slated to be held this March in Helsinki, Finland, might be a go in consideration of all the current pandemic situations and variables.
“If they have Worlds, I’d like to be there,” said Chen.
This past year, Chen, in usual fashion, has focused on training his short and long programs intensively with a great deal of his focus being on technical content and choreography.
“The programs are so technically loaded, we’ve tried to reorganize the choreography,” said Chen.
Meanwhile, Chen, when asked by a member of the Japanese press about his thoughts on Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time Japanese Olympic champion, he said the prospect of competing with him is something he is looking forward to.
“Hanyu’s looking quite strong,” said Chen about Hanyu’s recent victorious foray at the 2021 Japanese Championships where the two-time Olympic gold medalist clinched his fifth consecutive Japanese title. “I’m looking forward to whatever competition in the future we have together.”
For Chen, it’s all about staying positive in every regard during this challenging period.
“If we stay as positive as possible, we’ll get through this,” said Chen.
Indeed, spoken like a true champion.
Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, 2020 U.S. silver medalist and two-time U.S. bronze medalist (in 2017 and 2019, respectively), is also on the hunt to make a mark in Las Vegas this week.
Brown, 26, a Highland Park, Illinois native who has been living and training at the Toronto Cricket Club for the last few years with elite coaches Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson, ought to once again deliver compelling performances, with his incredible spin, jump and edge technique, along with his incredible presentational acumen.
Vincent Zhou, the 20 year-old Palo Alto native who is the 2019 World bronze medalist, two-time U.S. silver medalist (in 2017 and 2019) and 2018 U.S. bronze medalist is another top-seeded entry to keep an eye on at this event.
Known for his lightning-quick rotation, Zhou, who trains with Christy Krall, Tom Zakrajsek and Mie Hamada in Colorado Springs, has the potential to score some big points, especially with his jumps, which include a quad Salchow and quad toe, among other impressive elements.