Ten-year-old Nathan Chen came out of nowhere at the 2010 U.S. Championships in Spokane, Wash., to become the youngest man, or in this instance, boy, to win the novice title in the history of the event.
He returned as the heavy favorite in 2011, and the then 11-year-old headed home with another historical title to his credit. He is the first skater in U.S. history ever to claim two consecutive crowns at the novice level.
“This time I am much more satisfied with my skating than I was the last time,” Chen said. “Last year I missed a few things, and that made me work very hard so that I could show that I can do more. I was really nervous in Greensboro, but overall I felt more prepared this year.”
Coach Genia Chernyshova and Chen’s mother Hetty Wang decided to keep the skater at the novice level for a second season, despite his previous success.
“Last year was his first in novice and he wasn’t supposed to win,” Wang said. “He is just a little boy, and I didn’t want him to be rushed. We thought it was in his best interests to let him develop his skating at his own pace rather than push him to move into the junior ranks before he was ready.”
Following his 2010 victory, Chen was named ABC’s Person of the Week and was featured in a three-minute segment in a televised broadcast, where he shared his story with the world. “I really don’t know how that happened,” he said. “It was fun to talk with them, and they gave me a football.”
Because of his on-ice charm, Chen has become a highly sought-after performer in the United States and Asia.
Last year, the Utah native had the opportunity to skate in a show in Hangzhou, China. He was the youngest performer in the show.
“I was able to meet my grandmother, an uncle and a cousin when I was in China,” Chen said. “It’s really fun to travel all over to skate. Since nationals, I have skated in shows in Ohio, Illinois and Utah.”
He was recently awarded the U.S. Athlete Alumni Ambassador Award. Only novice and junior skaters who have qualified for the U.S. Championships are eligible for the award, and candidates must submit essays outlining their volunteer work in their local communities.
“I just wrote about how I like to help out at my school,” Chen said. “I help clean up the lunchroom and pass out things at school.”
Chen will move up to the junior level next season, despite not meeting the minimum age requirement to compete at the Junior Grand Prix level. As part of his development, he has sought out jump specialist Rafael Arutunian and travels to Lake Arrowhead, Calif. from time to time to work with him.
“I am working on doing all of my triples with a triple toe on the end,” Chen explained. “I am also working on triple Axels now, and have been doing them out of the harness.”
He hopes to add a triple-triple to his programs next season, and his goal is to qualify for 2012 nationals.
In the meantime, the sixth grader is looking forward to his summer vacation. “I will be skating in some shows in Sun Valley again,” he said. “Other than that, I will play with my brothers and ride the new bike that I got for my birthday.” Chen turned 12 on May 5.
Originally published in August 2011