In a way, Everett is serving as the bookends for what’s been the most remarkable story of the 2018-19 world figure skating season.
Nathan Chen, the reigning men’s world champion, delved into the unknown when he decided to spend the 2018-19 season balancing figure skating with being a full-time student at Yale. But in his first full competitive event, last October’s Skate America at Everett’s Angel of the Winds Arena, he wowed the crowd as he won gold. That served as a springboard for a season in which he swept all before him on his way to his second straight world title.
On Thursday night Chen returns to Everett as the headliner of Stars On Ice, a traveling exhibition tour featuring some of the biggest names in U.S. figure skating.
And nothing sums Chen’s season up better than the fact he’ll be performing just days after completing his finals at Yale.
“I’m really excited to go back to Everett,” Chen said when reached by cell phone from Irvine, California, on Saturday as he carved out a few days to catch up with his coach, Rafael Artuyunyan. “Any time you go to a competition and perform the way I did and had the results I did, that place holds a special place in your heart. To go back and experience Everett in a non-competitive setting will be a fun little break.”
Chen, 20, just completed his freshman year at Yale, and Thursday’s show is his first since completing his finals — he missed a handful of tour dates to return to New Haven, Connecticut, for finals in his psychology, statistics, math and music classes. He’s eager to return to the site of his Skate America victory, where he dominated the field.
“It was early in the season and I was not fully prepared to put out strong skates,” Chen recalled. “But I was glad I was able to put out the skates that I did. And to have the support of the American fans at an international competition was a special thing.”
Chen went on to win every event he entered, including the World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan, in March — that’s how he spent his spring break.
He accomplished all that despite being 3,000 miles away from his coach and having to communicate via video. Despite being in class each day from about 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. before heading to the rink to train from 3-7 p.m.
“I think it went really well,” Chen said about his balancing act. “I wasn’t honestly expecting the results that I did. I thought I might be top three, so to win it all was a big surprise to me. School also went really well, I was able to immerse myself back into that environment. It was a little difficult skating because I didn’t have the team I’m used to having in training. But everything went well, my team supported all the decisions I made, and I’m happy with that.”
Chen also was able to become a normal member of the student body at Yale, where he didn’t have to worry about fellow students coming up to him and asking for photographs.
“At Yale you’re surrounded by some pretty incredible people — I have a classmate who just won an Oscar,” Chen said. “So while people know who I am on campus, I can still be casual and friends with everyone.”
On Thursday night Chen will be performing his short routine from this season along with one exhibition routine, and he appreciates the opportunity to skate without the pressure of competing.
“You get to share it with the cast, and the show itself is a lot less stressful and more fun,” Chen said. “You get to focus on the actual performance, which all the skaters love.”