After a season away from competition, 2017 US champion and 2018 Olympian Karen Chen is returning to the international stage with her first Grand Prix assignment, Skate America, in just two weeks. We sat down with her to discuss the changes she’s made in the past year -- including enrolling as a full-time student at Cornell University -- and what she hopes to take from her early-season competition experience heading into the Grand Prix series. Read all about it in the interview below!
Kite: I wanted to ask a little bit about your programs -- this season you're skating to a “You Say” short program and an “Illumination” free. How do you feel while you're performing them, having been out with them twice already? What do you hope that the audience is getting from your performance?
The short program is a very special program. It's something I've never done before in competition, and this music just really spoke to me. I was going for sort of like a contemporary feel -- something more dramatic and emotional and powerful at the same time. And every single time I start this program I just -- this music give me the feels, and I just love performing this program.
You do a lot of your choreo by yourself, like “On Golden Pond.” What is that experience like, and is that something that you'd like to see other skaters do in the future?
I do know that more and more skaters are starting to do their own programs, especially show programs -- it was kind of ballsy of me to choreograph my short program that year, but part of the reason is because the music was very special to me, and I had a vision for it. I definitely did work with choreographers to help me transform my ideas into the program. But overall, I just felt like it was just something really special and I wanted to have a unique twist to it.
You were out of the Grand Prix last season -- you're going be back this season and you've already competed twice. I saw you in Philly and then at ACI and I definitely saw your programs evolving between the two, which was really nice. How does it feel to return to a major international competition and to compete in front of big audiences? Is it kind of a transition that you have to make after being out last season ?
Yeah. Last season was really tough for me. After the Olympic year and then injured, and just going through a lot of problems. But I'm really glad I took the season off to give myself time to recover, recover from the stress fracture. I felt like I started off this season pretty well. Definitely lots of room to grow and improve on, but I'm hoping to keep the moment of that I built for myself.
Did it feel different? Between Philly and ACI?
It definitely felt different. Philly -- it was in the U.S. and it was a small competition so I didn't feel as nervous but definitely for ACI it felt different. I don't want to say foreign, but it felt familiar and foreign at the same time. Like: I know I've done this before but at the same time I haven't done it in a while. But I also felt really excited to be back.
How do you feel the programs are evolving as you go into the Grand Prix and the major international stage?
I've had this short for much longer than the long, so I do feel that the choreography has developed a bit more in comparison to the long. And definitely working on my jump consistency and cleanness is a priority. For my long, it's just developing the footwork and the transitions and hopefully just having that grand impact that I'm aiming for.
We talked about this a little bit on the show actually -- you started at Cornell University. I actually also went to Cornell.
Yeah, so I know how challenging it is even just to be a student. I can't even imagine as an elite athlete what that must be like. How are you balancing your classes and traveling to competitions and how do you foresee that continuing as the season goes on?
Well, it's only been three weeks -- but it's definitely been three weeks of organized chaos, really crazy, haven't been getting much sleep! But for the classes that I'm taking, I've contacted the professors to let them know my schedule and plans and thankfully none of my competitions overlap with like prelims or anything which is really amazing. I think I can figure it out and just kind of hopefully be able to sleep well and train and study and get good grades.
Definitely a good plan. Best of luck with that!
Thank you so much!
Looking forward to your competitions at the Grand Prix, you're going to be at Skate America and then you'll be at NHK. So what are you looking forward to -- not just the skating but maybe sightseeing? Do you have any plans to see the area while you're there?
I've definitely been to Vegas many, many times. It kind of depends on the schedule. I'm not one to sightsee before competitions or anything. But afterwards if I have time, I love to walk around and just sightsee. Especially NHK. I've been to Sapporo once, but I remember not being able to explore so I'm really hoping that I'll have the time to do that.
One more question. We actually talked to your brother and his partner a couple of weeks ago. This is their breakout season as well at the Junior Grand Prix -- what is it like to be siblings competing internationally and how do you guys motivate each other both in and out of skating?
I feel like my brother and I are actually really close. We didn't use to [be]. I feel we used to argue all the time, I think it was because we were around each other all the time and now that there's a distance -- he's at Michigan, and before I went to Cornell I was at Colorado Springs and so we would always talk all the time but we just didn't see each other all the time so we argued. I feel like that kind of made our bond stronger. I do definitely feel like I always encourage him -- I encouraged him to do ice dance because he struggled with jumps when he was a single skater. He definitely encourages me and supports me no matter what.
Thanks so much for talking to us again, and best of luck with the season!