Nathan Chen weighs unknown variables of next figure skating season

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Nathan Chen is a statistics and data science major at Yale.

But even his fluency in those subjects can’t help Chen much now in finding answers to questions about his future.

“Too many variables,” Chen said this week via telephone from California.

Not to mention all the complete unknowns in any equation Chen might use to help define his plans.

For the two-time defending figure skating world champion, that starts with the unknown about when he can back on the ice for the first time since the 2020 World Championships were cancelled in mid-March because of the coronavirus pandemic.

And:

  • Will there be a 2020-21 figure skating season? If so, beginning when?

  • Will Yale classes this fall be virtual, as they were for the just-completed second semester of his sophomore year, meaning Chen could stay in school and stay in California to keep training daily with his coach, Rafael Arutunian, rather than being 3,000 miles apart and working together in occasional video chats?

Prior to the outbreak of coronavirus, Chen had been leaning toward starting a pre-2022 Olympic leave from Yale as of now. He has rented an apartment in California.

“Raf is definitely trying to influence me to stay,” Chen said. “Before I make an official statement, it’s better to wait and see how the fall semester will shape up.”

(Yale plans to announce by early July whether classes will be in-person, online or a hybrid.)

“If classes remain virtual and/or if there is no Grand Prix this fall, that might influence my decisions about school.”

Chen, 21, has won all his competitions since moving to New Haven to study in August 2018. That streak includes one world title, two Grand Prix Finals, two U.S. titles and four individual Grand Prix events.

For all that, the worlds cancellation left a critical gap in his decision-making data.

“I was using last season’s results to sort of determine what to do about school,” Chen said. “Because worlds didn’t happen, it’s harder to say.”

The ISU intends to announce by Aug. 1 whether Skate America, the Grand Prix opener, can take place as scheduled Oct. 23-25 in Las Vegas. Decisions will similarly be made 12 weeks in advance of each of the other five “regular-season” Grand Prix events, which follow one week after another until a two-week break before the Grand Prix Final.

This part of the year is usually the lightest period of Chen’s annual training schedule. His time on ice would mainly have been doing tour appearances with Stars on Ice and some other shows, all of which have been cancelled.

“I’m working out trying to keep my body in shape, but I’ve been quite lazy lately,” Chen said, with a laugh. “A lot of watching movies and some playing the piano, which I did when I was younger.”

Chen estimated it would take at least two months of being back on the ice full-time to get into competitive shape for an event like Skate America, which normally comes in the trial-and-error part of the season.

“That’s a bare minimum, especially if we have to consider new programs,” he said.

Chen has done two new programs in each of his four senior international seasons and re-used just one program in the last 11 seasons. Given potential time constraints, he might be inclined to recycle something for this season.

“If we must, we must, but I’m not a huge fan of that,” Chen said.

Another unknown variable.

Philip Hersh, who has covered figure skating at the last 11 Winter Olympics, is a special contributor to NBCSports.com/figure-skating.

MORE: Figure skating’s latest recalculations change skaters’ formula for success

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Nathan Chen weighs unknown variables of next figure skating season originally appeared on NBCSports.com