It was a normal Tuesday for figure skater Karen Chen ’25, carving out a brief moment between her pre-med classes to check her phone. Suddenly, it was flooded with notifications, calls and texts saying she had become an Olympic champion.
Two years removed from her stint at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing that saw the US Figure Skating Team in second place, Chen is now an Olympic gold medalist.
“It was crazy,” Chen said. “The past two years, the whole team –– we’ve just been waiting for things that were out of our control.”
The Swiss-based Court of Arbitration for Sport ruled on Monday, Jan. 29 that Russian figure skater Kamila Valieva violated anti-doping rules for a positive drug test from December 2021, just a couple months before the Winter Olympics. Following Valieva’s disqualification from competition, the International Skating Union demoted the Russian Olympic Committee, pushing the United States to the top spot on Tuesday, Jan. 30.
“When the decision was made, it all just came so suddenly out of nowhere, I didn’t expect it to happen. All of a sudden, like I was getting texts from like, friends, family — anyone just congratulating me and [it was] so weird,” Chen said. “They’re congratulating me for something that happened two years ago.”
This marks the first-ever team Olympic skating gold medal for the United States, with Chen winning alongside teammates Evan Bates, Nathan Chen, Madison Chock, Zachary Donohue, Brandon Frazier, Madison Hubbell, Alexa Knierim and Vincent Zhou.
Chen is the first Cornellian to ever medal in an Olympic figure skating competition and the fifth to earn gold at the 2022 Winter Olympics, according to a post on X, previously known as Twitter, from Cornell historian and visiting lecturer Corey Ryan Earle ’07.
“[It] was really incredible. I can’t even put it into words — and I think I’m still processing it since it just happened really recently,” Chen said. “I think a part of me doesn’t want to fully process it until I get the medal.”
The date of the medal ceremony is still unknown two years after the scandal, however.
Chen, and the rest of Team USA, never received the silver medal in 2022. A mere few hours after the United States had earned silver in the team skate, the group boarded the team bus to receive their silver medals. Before the bus was put in drive, the team was told the event was canceled.
The team was offered no explanation until the next day, when it was revealed that the doping scandal was under investigation. Two years later, the U.S. Olympic and Paralympic Committee began looking for a suitable time and place for the ceremony.
“I think all of us want to have a ceremony at the Summer Olympics. We’re trying to push for something,” Chen said. “The [chance] of that happening –– I don’t really know.”
Chen expressed her excitement to receive gold, but mourns the experience she and her team were stripped of in Beijing when the medal ceremony was canceled.
“I didn’t personally care about what color the medal would be, … but the experience of getting on the podium with my team –– I was really hoping to experience that at the Olympics when it mattered,” Chen said.
As a result of the violation, Valieva was handed a four-year ban from international competition and must forfeit “any titles, awards, medals, profits, prizes and appearance money,” according to the Court of Arbitration for Sport’s media release.
“I’m a big advocate for clean athletes. Clean sport. If that’s not the case, then things just aren’t fair, right?” Chen said.
As for the scoring of the team event, Valieva’s score was subtracted from the ROC’s overall score, rather than disqualifying the team altogether. The subtraction landed the ROC in place for bronze –– meaning that, should a ceremony be scheduled, the Russian athletes will receive medals without Valieva.
“It’s just very –– I don’t want to say hurtful, but it’s just hard to know that if you’re competing against competitors that have an advantage, then what’s the point of sport?” Chen said. “[It’s] just not a good feeling to feel when you’re dedicating your life to do something and have expectations of yourself.”
Chen said she will be focusing on school and her pre-medical aspirations, rather than fretting about the future handlings of doping in figure skating.
“I’m more worried about my prelims at this point,” Chen said. “I’m just going to let the professionals deal with it.”
Though academically a junior, Chen took two gap years to pursue skating and compete in the Olympics. Elected as a co-president of the Cornell University Figure Skating Club for the 2023-24 school year, Chen is currently looking to find a balance between her academics and athletics while also supporting her teammates at CUFSC, who placed eighth at the 2023 National Intercollegiate Final.
“The club was really small [at first] — to see it grow and get more competitive in the collegiate world was very rewarding,” Chen said. “I’m still involved with the sport of figure skating, but it has just taken a different space in my mind and my heart.”
Correction, Feb. 9, 10:30 p.m.: A previous version of this article incorrectly stated that Chen is the seventh Cornellian to medal at an Olympics and the fifth to earn gold. Chen is the first Cornellian to ever medal in an Olympic figure skating competition and the fifth to earn gold at the 2022 Winter Olympics. The Sun regrets this error, and the article has been corrected.