COVID prevented Olympic gold medalist Utahn from attending White House reception
Don’t be surprised if on Wednesday you feel the spontaneous urge to leap into the air and spin four times. Because in Utah, it will officially be Nathan Chen Day.
State lawmakers plan to honor the gold medal-winning figure skater in the Capitol Chamber at 11 a.m. with a ceremony and a statement from Governor Spencer Cox. That evening, Chen is scheduled to perform with other Olympians at the Maverik Center with the Stars on Ice exhibition tour.
Chen, 23, the youngest of five children of Chinese immigrants Zhidong Chen and Hetty Wang, grew up in Utah and was enrolled in West High’s extended apprenticeship program. Although he moved to California to train at age 12, he represented Salt Lake City throughout his illustrious figure skating career.
Wednesday marks his third participation in the Stars on Ice program. But it’s also the first time the reigning three-time world champion will skate in Utah since winning men’s individual gold and a team silver at the Beijing Olympics in February. Chen will be joined by all members of this team, the first to win silver for the United States, on the ice at the Maverik Center, including ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, the pair skaters Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier and singles skaters Karen Chen and Vincent Zhou.
“It’s been a while since I’ve been able to skate in Salt Lake again,” Chen said in a phone interview with the Salt Lake Tribune last week.
“I am delighted to return. Unfortunately with that [tour], I won’t have much time to go around Salt Lake or really feel like Salt Lake. The layout of the show and the stage is really nice all the same. But that being said, it will be really nice to be back in Salt Lake for a while.
It may also be one of the last times local fans get to see him skate live. Chen said he plans to return to Yale in the fall. He will spend the next two years focusing on his pre-medical studies while wondering if he will defend his Olympic championship at the 2026 Winter Games in Italy.
“I will definitely keep skating,” he said. “I just don’t know to what extent and what my goals will be.”
Chen is known as one of the most artistic and athletic figure skaters in sports history. In 2018, he became the first person to land five different types of quad jumps (four rotations) in a single competition. He won his sixth consecutive United States title in January, which puts him a distance away from the record for consecutive national championships set by Dick Button from 1946 to 1952.
He joined Button as one of seven American men to win Olympic gold and is one of two in the past 30 years. Chen also has an Olympic bronze medal from the team competition at the 2018 Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Earlier this month, Chen received an invitation to attend a reception at the White House for US Olympic athletes from the 2020 Summer Games and 2022 Winter Games. He was, however, forced to decline after have tested positive for COVID-19.
Chen may not meet President Joe Biden at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, but he is expected to receive his honor before a near-full house. The Legislative Assembly will meet on Wednesday for supply and provisional committee meetings.
As for whether he’ll see another full house at the show that night?
“I hope so,” he said. “Yeah, I hope so.”