Watching Nathan Chen skate can be an exercise in awe. From his quad jumps executed with such power and seeming ease, to tender, articulated arm movements, it’s not unusual to experience a jaw-dropping moment or two.
Many people got to have that experience watching Chen win the Olympic gold medal in men’s figure skating in February — the seventh American to do so. It was the capper on a dominating four-year run that, since coming in fifth at the 2018 Olympics, saw him winning every competition he entered except one — including multiple world and national titles.
These days, he’s putting all that competitive pressure behind him for now, touring with Stars on Ice, which makes its Seattle stop May 28 at Climate Pledge Arena. The show features group and individual numbers from Chen and his fellow Olympians. The cast includes U.S. champions Alysa Liu, Jason Brown, Mariah Bell, Karen Chen and Mirai Nagasu; national and world champion pairs team Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier; national champion and world medalist ice dance teams Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue, and Madison Chock and Evan Bates; and world medalist Vincent Zhou. In addition, the U.S. bronze medalist ice dance team of Jean-Luc Baker (who’s from Edmonds) and Kaitlin Hawayek will be guest skaters at the Seattle show.
Earlier this month, Chen took some time before a Stars on Ice show in Cleveland to answer a few of our questions. This conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
What did you do to celebrate after winning the Olympic gold medal?
I haven’t really done so much, honestly. Got straight back into work and getting ready for the tour.
Did you find the Olympics to be what you expected this year, especially given the pandemic?
Overall, it was a great experience. You’re so busy with competition, practices — there’s not much time otherwise. Overall, I’m proud of the way our team held ourselves, how we trained, practiced. Some were more affected directly and weren’t able to compete. My heart goes out to him [referring to teammate Zhou, who wasn’t able to compete in the men’s figure skating competition because he tested positive for the coronavirus].
Have you heard from Vincent Zhou?
He’s on the tour with us actually. It’s not something the cast talks about much — just trying to enjoy the show. He’s a great sportsman. I’m proud of way he competed at Worlds [the World Figure Skating Championships in March, where Zhou won the bronze medal]. It’s great to have him in the cast.
You’ve said in interviews how Simone Biles choosing to withdraw from the women’s gymnastics team final at the Tokyo Olympics to focus on mental health gave athletes a sense of peace. Did that help you deal with the pressure, especially leading up to the Beijing Olympics? How did you learn, over the years, to deal with that pressure?
It definitely did. It set a great precedent for that. Being able to put the perspective that we’re humans first is really important for us to have. I’m really grateful she was able to do that.
I was able to work with a great mental coach over the years. He gave me great advice on how to prepare my mind for the Olympics.
There were a number of sessions we worked together. Most of it was: make my visualization more efficient. Positive self talk, and framing my mindset — all those things are really important.
There seems to be still no resolution on the Olympic team medals situation. (No team figure skating medals — the U.S. won silver — have been given, pending investigation into the doping scandal involving Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva.) How are you dealing with that?
Fine. I’m disappointed for my teammates. I wished we had the opportunity at the Games. We’re [looking to see what’s happening]. Nothing’s come out of it yet.
You’re the first Asian American male skater to win national, world and Olympic titles. You’ve said before how much seeing Michelle Kwan’s successes meant to you, growing up. Have you thought about if and how you might be a voice for Asian American representation going forward?
Absolutely. I think representation in itself is important. And being able to have a diverse and great team going to the Olympics is great — for representation, not just for AAPI [Asian Americans and Pacific Islanders].
What have been your favorite programs to skate to over the years?
All my programs have been different. I’ve enjoyed them all in different ways. “Rocketman” [Chen’s free-skate program at the Olympics] is higher on my list of programs I’ve loved. There isn’t one specific one more than others.
What can we expect to see from you at the Stars on Ice show?
Stars is an awesome opportunity for all of us. To have opportunities for group numbers, celebrate all the work we’ve put into the Olympic season. It’s just a lot of fun overall. I have two solos and four group numbers.
The world of “professional” figure skating, which used to have lots of televised competitions and shows, has changed so much in the U.S. since its heyday (a few decades ago). Are shows like Stars on Ice and shows in Canada and Asia enough to offset all the expense put into the sport?
Probably not. Shows and sponsorship opportunities are the main things to bring in funding to offset training expenses. We certainly incur a lot.
You’re planning to return to Yale in August to continue majoring in statistics and data science. Is med school your goal?
Yeah — that’s in my sights. But as time progresses, I’ll see where I want to go.
Have you thought about whether you’ll continue to skate competitively?
I’ve thought about it. But I haven’t come to a conclusion quite yet. One thing at a time.