(Retrospect: Our first interview with Nathan Chen — originally published in the October 2010 issue of IFS)
Nathan Chen, the 2010 U.S. novice men’s champion, got more than he bargained for last season. At age 10, he was the youngest competitor at the 2010 national championships and his win earned him the honor of being the youngest novice men’s champion in the nation’s history.
As the first figure skating champion to ever emerge from the state of Utah, the Salt Lake City native found himself the center of media attention back home. On Feb. 19, Chen was named ABC World News Person of the Week.
In April, David Liu (Chen’s godfather) and Darren Olivera invited Chen to perform in a series of shows they were producing in Hangzhou, China. He could barely believe it. “A lot of people told David that I looked a lot like him when he was younger so he asked me to be in his shows,” Chen explained. “It was very exciting because I had never been to China before. The shows were held at the World Ice Arena which is in a luxury mall in Hangzhou.”
Celebrating his 11th birthday on Chinese soil was a special moment for Chen. “At the end of the final show a big birthday cake was brought out onto the ice and the audience sang Happy Birthday to me,” he said. “It was the biggest birthday party I have ever had.”
French skaters Laurent Tobel, who often carried Chen around on his shoulders during rehearsals, and Stanick Jeannette spent time working with Chen on mastering the triple Lutz. “Laurent told me that he could land all of his triples by age 11, and he said ‘if I can do it, you can do it,’” he recalled. Three weeks later Chen landed his first triple Lutz and in early June he began landing the jump on a consistent basis.
Russian-born Genia Cher nyshova, the 1989 World junior pairs champion with partner Dmitri Sukhanov, has coached Chen for two years. “I thought it was a fan tastic opportunity for Nathan to skate in China and to see that there is so much more to skating than just competing,” she said. “What was really great was that even though no one knew who he was he was treated like a megastar. He came back with an understanding of what else is out there for him in skating.”
Chen first took to the ice shortly after his third birthday. Less than two years later he won his first competition. In 2008, he claimed bronze in the juvenile ranks and the following year won silver at the intermediate level.
The youngest of five children, Chen leads an active life. He has been studying piano since age 4, participates in a gymnastics program, plays hockey and studies dance at Ballet West. The Hawthorne Elementary school student is enrolled in the Extended Learning Program run by the Salt Lake City School District. He will enter the sixth grade in September.
In late June, Chen won the Broadmoor Open by more than 30 points over his nearest rival. “Nathan earned a higher score than he did at nationals and that gave me a good idea of where we can be in six months or so,” Chernyshova said.
Chen returned to Hangzhou in August to perform in two exhibitions at Skate Asia. “Everyone was so excited that he was coming back. He was by far the most spectacular star at the Wiwa shows,” said World Ice Arena director Ted Wilson. “He is utterly amazing and, frankly, in all my years in this business I’ve never seen anything like him. He is so gifted that he was choreographing Richard Dwyer for their duet, ‘Singing in the Rain.’”
Chernyshova is very aware of the talent that she is guiding. “Nathan is truly amazing. He is extremely intelligent and understands new ideas and concepts very easily,” she said. “He works hard and is obviously very talented. I believe he has a very bright future and I have no doubt that we will one day see him on an Olympic team.”