COVID kept 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 legislators and the Utah Sports Commission plan to honor the gold medalist figure skater in the Capitol chamber at 11 am with a ceremony and a declaration from Gov. 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 the five children of Chinese immigrants Zhidong Chen and Hetty Wang, grew up in Utah and was enrolled in the Extended Learning Program at West High. Though he moved to California to train when he was 12, he has represented Salt Lake City throughout his illustrious figure skating career.
Wednesday marks his third time skating in Stars on Ice. But, it’s also the first time the three-time and defending world champion will be skating in Utah since winning the men’s individual gold medal and a team silver medal at the Beijing Olympics in February. Chen will be joined by all the members of that team, the first to win silver for the USA, on the Maverik Center ice, including ice dancers Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates, pairs 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 again in Salt Lake,” Chen said during a phone interview with The Salt Lake Tribune last week.
“I’m excited to go back. Unfortunately with this [tour], I won’t have that much time to go around Salt Lake or really feel like I’m in Salt Lake. The layout of the show and stage is really kind of all the same. But that being said, it’ll be really nice to be back in Salt Lake for one. “
It may also be one of the final times local fans will get to see him skate live. Chen has said he plans to return to Yale in the fall. He will spend the next couple of years focusing on his pre-med studies while weighing whether he will defend his Olympic championship at the 2026 Winter Games in Italy.
“I definitely will continue 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 the sport’s history. In 2018, he became the first person to land five different kinds of quad (four-rotation) jumps in a single competition. He won his sixth straight United States title in January, putting him just one shy of the record for consecutive national championships set by Dick Button from 1946-52.
He joined Button as one of just seven American men to have won 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 the US Olympic athletes from the 2020 Summer Games and the 2022 Winter Games. He was forced to decline, however, after he tested positive for COVID-19.
Chen may not meet President Joe Biden at the Utah Capitol on Wednesday, but he should receive his honor in front of a nearly full house. The Legislature will be in session Wednesday for appropriation and interim committee meetings.
As for whether he’ll see another full house at the exhibition that night?
“I hope so,” he said. “Yeah, I hope so.”