The Truth About U.S. Figure Skater Karen Chen

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From a young age, Karen Chen knew that she wanted to pursue a career on the ice. She started skating at just 4 years old, and immediately fell in love with the sport. After winning several esteemed competitions and making a name for herself in the figure skating world, Chen accomplished her dream of making the 2018 U.S. figure skating team at the Winter Olympics. While many considered her to be the Team USA favorite to win, Chen placed 11th, and even considered leaving the sport for good after her time in Pyeongchang (NBC Sports). Then, after a nearly career-ending injury, enrolling at Cornell University, and facing a global pandemic, Chen once again realized her love for the sport and made it her mission to compete again in the 2022 Winter Olympics.

While Chen knows she has her fair share of obstacles to overcome in order to win a medal in Tokyo, she has the confidence in herself and her abilities she needs to succeed. Chen shared with NBC, "At the end of the day, it doesn't matter what other people think, as long as I believe in myself and put in the work, I strongly believe that I can accomplish my goals."

Karen Chen was a skating prodigy from a young age

Karen Chen began skating at the age of 4 and quickly advanced, competing at just 6 years old. In the ice skater's memoir, "Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice," Chen reflected, "I wish I could remember the first time I laced up a pair of skating boots and slid out onto that big, frozen circle. After all, who wouldn't want to remember the moment they fell in love?" (via Cornell University).

The ice skating prodigy continued to quickly make a name for herself after she won the Central Pacific Regional and Championships and the Junior Nationals in the Intermediate Ladies division in 2011. Since then, Chen has won an impressive amount of medals and titles, from being awarded the 2017 U.S. National Champion to placing 4th at the 2021 World Championship, and finally winning a silver medal at the 2022 National Championships, which earned her a spot on the 2022 Olympic team.

Former Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi is Karen Chen's mentor

Kristi Yamaguchi became a household name when she won gold at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville, France, after she landed a triple loop and all her other competitors fell on the ice. Since then, Yamaguchi has become a role model for many young figure skaters, including Karen Chen. Chen spoke to KSDK News about the skating duo's relationship and said, "We're both from Fremont, California, and she would sometimes show up at the rink ... she is my mentor and an incredible human being."

The gold medalist herself has had nothing but positive things to share about Chen, and explained to Parade that she is "an incredible and hard-working skater." Yamaguchi continued to gush, "Karen is an incredible talent, and she's a beautiful skater. It's been really fun to mentor her and to give her whatever positive advice I can." Yamaguchi even went on to write the foreword for Chen's autobiography, solidifying the close relationship between the two Olympic athletes (via KSDK News).

She almost retired from figure skating

Karen Chen considered retirement after she competed in the 2018 Olympics, where she placed 11th. After feeling disappointed with her performance, the world-renowned ice skater wanted to explore other aspects of her life outside of the sport (via NBC Sports). At just 19 years old, Chen was already nearing old age for a competition skater, so her retirement would not be anything out of the ordinary in the skating world. Tim Hewett, the former director of Ohio State University Sports Health & Performance Institute, explained to ABC News, "As you age, you tend to get more mass in your upper body. That is a problem and an issue that has to do with body control and control over your center of mass," which is why figure skaters retire at a relatively young age.

After Chen enrolled at Cornell University in the fall of 2019 and tried to balance skating and a rigorous academic load, she once again realized her love for the sport. Chen shared with NBC Sports, "That fire just relit inside me, and I knew that it's only going to get harder as you get older, so now is the time to chase those dreams."

She wrote an book about her ice skating career

Karen Chen wrote her autobiography, "Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice," when she was 17 years old, preparing for the 2018 Winter Olympics. Chen details every aspect of her skating career, from when she first set foot on the ice at just 5 years old, to becoming the 2017 U.S. National Champion. In an Instagram caption reflecting on her process writing the book, Chen shared, "To be honest, I was extremely hesitant about this autobiography, because I was scared of embarrassing myself. I vividly remember thinking to myself how dumb I would look if I worked so hard on publishing this book and then not even make the 2018 Olympic Team. That thought terrified me. However, I decided to go for it." 

In an interview with HarperKids, Chen shared that not only does her book talk about her career and the steps she took to become such a renowned skater, but also funny anecdotes, such as her "very first big injury." According to the Olympic skater, she broke her right foot after attempting a move called "the death drop" — we don't think we'll be attempting that one any time soon.

She attended Cornell University

Karen Chen is not only dedicated to skating, but to her academic life as well. After placing 11th at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, Chen chose to prioritize other aspects of her life along with skating, and enrolled at Cornell University in the fall of 2019 with a major in Human Biology, Health, and Society (via The Cornell Daily Sun). In U.S. Figure Skating's "Portrait of a Skater," Chen shared, "I'm really looking forward to just going to college and meeting new people, making new friends, and to kind of experience my life outside of skating."

While Chen ultimately decided to take a leave of absence from Cornell University after completing her freshman year remotely in the spring of 2020, Chen plans to return to school after the Winter Olympics for the fall 2022 semester (via Cornell University). In true overachiever fashion, the 22-year-old Olympian is even thinking about pursuing a pre-med track.

Karen Chen is close with her family

Born to Taiwanese immigrants, Chen grew up as the older sibling to her brother, Jeffrey, who is also a competitive skater. Chen shared with NBC Olympics that her parents were huge influences on her skating career and explained, "As I got more and more into this sport, my mom's competitive nature and my dad's patience rubbed off on me, which helped me grow my desire to succeed in this sport while still understanding that goals take time and trust to come true." Chen's parents were extremely supportive of both of the Chen siblings' skating careers, and their mother even enrolled the kids in online school in order to accommodate their busy schedules (via The Mercury News).

The figure skater never hesitates to speak out about how proud she is of her Asian-American heritage and shared to Team USA what her family means to her. Chen said, "I spent a lot of my childhood in Taiwan and am close to my grandparents who are there. I'm so thankful for that," Karen Chen said. "To me, I'm really proud of my heritage and where I came from. I am proud of who I am and what that represents."

She had injuries that almost ended her career

With years of skating under her belt, Karen Chen has had plenty of injuries that have taken her off the ice for long periods of time. After Chen's success at the U.S. Championships in 2015 where she won bronze, the figure skater had a series of injuries that caused her to lose momentum in the following competitions. According to Figure Skaters Online, Chen discussed her disappointing 4th place finish at the 2017 Four Continents Championships in a media call and said, "It was kind of a little stressful for me and with the addition of all of the boot problems and things, my mind was just very frazzled during the whole week there."

After the 2018 Olympics, Chen had another serious injury. In an Instagram post, Chen explained that she pushed herself "a bit too fast too soon," resulting in a stress fracture that took her off the ice for an entire competition season.

Luckily, the athlete was able to overcome all of these obstacles in order to make the 2022 Winter Olympics, and we can't wait to see her perform.

The world-renowned figure skater likes to paint in her free time

Chen is not only a world-renowned figure skater, a student at an Ivy League University, and an author, she's also a talented artist. As Chen shared in U.S. Figure Skating's video, "Portrait of a Skater," "It's something that I used to do all the time. I would go to an art class once a week growing up and then obviously after I got like really dedicated to skating that kind of died a little bit." Chen continued to share that she loves to paint "colorful and wild" abstract nature scenes with oil and soft pastels.

Chen has posted some of her beautiful pieces on her Instagram, showcasing nature scenes with bright trees and butterflies. In a photo, the skater and artist displayed a painting she created of flowers with the caption, "Sometimes I build enough courage to be creative on paper instead of on ice." Who knows, maybe after she retires from skating, Chen will pursue a career as an artist!

The Olympic athlete has a grueling training schedule

Being an Olympic athlete is certainly not easy, so Chen has a rigorous training schedule and diet that she follows in order to stay in peak skating condition. Chen described her schedule and diet to NBC, and just reading about it makes us tired.

The 22-year-old athlete wakes up each day between 6 and 7 a.m. and has a "slow morning to get ready for the day" while enjoying two eggs, toast and some fruit for breakfast. Chen then skates from 9:40 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. and while that sounds like a long time, Chen assured everyone that she has breaks throughout her training where she fuels up. For lunch, Chen eats "yogurt with fruit and granola" along with a Sargento snack pack and some Skinny Pop when she wants a snack. After hours at the rink, Chen "usually head[s] to the gym for a workout or PT for recovery and maintenance." Finally, the Olympian ends the day with chicken breast, a side salad, and "lots of grilled veggies" for dinner with fruit or yogurt for dessert.

She wears a jade necklace when she skates

Many athletes have their superstitions, whether it's a pair of lucky socks or a pre-performance ritual. For Karen Chen, it's a jade rabbit necklace she wears during competitions. Chen shared that the necklace was a gift from her grandparents that she received when she was born, but her mother held onto it until Chen had her first injury. The rabbit is Chen's zodiac animal, and she wears the necklace as a form of protection on and off the ice. Chen shared with NBC Olympics, "I still wear it today and whenever I get a bit uneasy or anxious, I find myself touching the rabbit shaped jade pendant for reassurance."

However, the jade necklace is not the only thing that the professional athlete uses in order to feel safe during competitions. According to Chen, she always ties her left skate before her right one before she sets foot on the ice.

Karen Chen had to take time off from skating during the COVID-19 pandemic

Like many other athletes during lockdown, Karen Chen had to get "creative" with training for her sport in order to stay in shape, since the ice rinks were closed. While some of these workouts could be intense, Chen shared with NBC that she also made sure to have a little fun with her exercises. The figure skater said, "I did a lot of YouTube workout videos and played a lot of 'Just Dance' on the Nintendo Switch. My brother and I would try to outscore each other on 'Just Dance' to the point where I considered it a form of cardio work!"

Like many of us, Chen also got into at-home YouTube workouts while she was quarantined at home. In March 2020, the then-college student posted a photo of herself following along to a workout taught by the popular fitness influencer and instructor Cassey Ho, also known as Blogilates. Chen captioned the photo, "just tryna be @blogilates #QuarantineThings." It's nice to know that even Olympic athletes enjoyed pilates-style workouts while at home!

The figure skater incorporates her love for music in to her routines

Music selection is one of the most important decisions a figure skater has to make when it comes to their program, and Karen Chen definitely takes this seriously. The Virginian Pilot spoke with Jill Stewart, the skating director at a rink in Chesapeake, Virginia, who explained that music allows the skater to become a storyteller, creating drama and a narrative through spins, jumps, and expressions.

While Chen was preparing for the Olympic trials, she chose "Butterfly Lovers' Violin Concerto" by Takako Nishizaki for her free skate. Chen explained to U.S. Figure Skating Fanzone, "My love for the music and for the program has to come from a genuine place, and it's really important for me to feel a connection with the music." Chen had reused the piece from a previous competition, and used her second time with the music as an opportunity to help choreograph her routine. Luckily, the figure skater's song selection paid off, and she earned a silver medal in the 2022 U.S. National Championship, solidifying her spot in the upcoming Olympic Games (via NBC Sports).

She has been transparent about the obstacles that come with figure skating

While Karen Chen has never hesitated to share how much she loves being a professional figure skater, she has also been transparent about the negative effects of the sport. Chen participated in the #AsSheIs challenge, a campaign meant to empower women by posting selfies with no filter and no makeup (via ABS CBN News).

In November 2020, the professional athlete shared a selfie with a vulnerable caption that explained how while she loves figure skating, the sport led to a "competitive relationship with other females." That being said, Chen explained that her time at Cornell University helped her realize that skating isn't her whole world, and gained a new perspective about how to "appreciate" and "be inspired" by other female athletes instead of falling victim to comparison. Chen wrote in her caption, "I feel like I'm learning to appreciate and be inspired by my peers in all sorts of different ways! I really believe that supporting one another and building those strong female relationships is the key to a brighter and happier future!"

Karen Chen is a 'quiet assassin' on the ice

We love a good nickname, and Karen Chen definitely has one of the best. The figure skater is known as a "quiet assassin" due to her reserved nature, but absolutely killer moves on the ice. According to The Mercury News, Chen grew up as a "shy girl," but her mother explained that all of that changed when they saw her personality transform during her performance at the young skater's first competition. Chen's mother recalled, "We saw she's not shy at all." Chen further explained the origins of her nickname to NBC News and stated, "I call myself the 'quiet assassin' because ... I am small, I'm really shy, and I'm really quiet, but especially when I'm on the ice, I try to be as fearless and fierce and strong and powerful as possible." 

The Olympian is certainly powerful on the ice, having mastered difficult skating skills, like the triple jump, at just 11 years old (via The Mercury News). Whenever she performs, commentators are sure to note Chen's artistry and attention to detail on the ice, which sets her apart from other skaters.