Instead of logging on to Canvas from her Ithaca dorm, Karen Chen ’23 starts every day at an ice skating rink in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
On March 24, the olympian placed fourth at the World Figure Skating Championships in Sweden, bringing home the third spot for the American women’s Olympic team. To do so, the top two women’s places at Worlds had to sum up to 13 or fewer. Chen’s fourth place, combined with Bradie Tennell’s ninth place spot qualified the American team to have an additional spot for the women’s team.
A lifelong figure skater, Chen continued to skate throughout her first year at Cornell. At Cornell, she participated in the Cornell Figure Skating Club, while practicing on her own time by sending videos and calling her coach, Tammy Gambill. She is now taking the next two academic years off to pursue her skating career full time.
The shutdown of campus and closure of ice-skating rinks last year made it difficult for Chen to continue her training, so after the first few months of quarantine Chen decided to pack her bags to go to Colorado Springs to train with her coach once rinks reopened.
Before skating rinks opened, Chen was able to do off-ice training in local parks. Once rinks began to open up, Chen noted her skating improved because she no longer had to communicate with her coach via calls and videos. However, because most international competitions were cancelled due to the pandemic, getting competitive experience proved to be difficult.
“There were times when it was just hard to be training and not knowing if there would be a competition where you can show off your training,” Chen said.
Both Chen and Gambill were confident in the Cornellian’s ability to place at the World Championships. Still, Chen felt pressure to claim the three coveted spots for the Olympics especially since she had done so four years ago at her first Worlds competition.
“The placement and the getting back the three spots is not something I can control, but the thing I can control is my skating. I know that when I am enjoying my skating and performing, chances are I’m much more calm and I’m breathing properly which gives me the best shot at skating well,” Chen said.
Chen tried to focus on being calm and consistent at the competition, and she found comfort in the lyrics of the song for her short program, “Rise” by Katy Perry as she took to the ice.
Chen knew that she had skated a solid program when she landed the the most crucial series of jumps in both the short and the free programs. Gambill, however, could tell long before that.
“When she went out just to take her entry and her first opening pose, I felt that she was in a good spot and she was confident and she was going to do it,” Gambill said. “I was not shocked at all.”
Despite achieving a personal record of 74.40 points at Worlds, Chen is not done yet. On April 11, she will be leaving for Japan to perform at the World Team Trophy competition before going right back in to train for the Olympics. Gambill emphasized that they will be working on Chen’s triple axel as well as more technical components of her programs.
Chen will also be taking this upcoming year off from Cornell to focus on making the Olympic team, but she says she will be coming back to Ithaca in the fall of 2022.
Even being away from Cornell and her friends and family, she feels the immense support every time she steps on the ice.
“I feel like skating is a pretty isolated and lonely sport, so it’s really important for me to acknowledge that I have so many people supporting me,” Chen said. “My coach is there, the team and the team leaders are there, my family is on the other side of the world staying up watching me, and so are my friends, so it really means the world to me.”