Olympic gold medalist Nathan Chen stars in Vail Ice Spectacular￼
Special to the Daily
The best-kept secret in Vail is no longer: Vail Ice Spectacular has sold out, after building a reputation for bringing such high-caliber figure skaters to Vail for the past few years.
This year, 2022 Olympic champion Nathan Chen headlines the event, along with Olympic team bronze medalist Mirai Nagasu and U.S. bronze medalists Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean Luc Baker at Dobson Arena Dec. 23.
The show is always intimate, both between the skaters themselves and the performers and the audience.
“These are skaters that I’ve grown up with, and to share the ice with them in Vail — it’s a magical place,” Nagasu said, adding that the on-ice seating creates an even more intimate experience. “You get access you wouldn’t normally get, so it’s an opportunity for us to perform directly to the audience and for the audience to really appreciate skating.”
After his Olympic win this year, Chen looks looking forward to reuniting with one of his best friends, Baker, as well as Nagasu and Hawayek, whom he’s very close to, he said.
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“Now, especially, just to show that I’m really enjoying myself on the ice,” Chen said, describing what he hopes to express in Vail. “As skaters, while we may have been competing for many, many years, we don’t have that many opportunities to compete. Even in a perfect season, we have maybe six competitions or seven competitions, so realistically, even accumulated over six or seven years, that’s still not that many competitions, so while you have the opportunity to perform and skate, really enjoy it, and hopefully the audience will enjoy it.”
And, indeed, it is quite a show: There’s nothing like sitting on the ice while athletes land a back flip right in front of you, or flash a smile as they pass you during an uplifting routine.
While Chen will skate to “Rocketman,” the music for his winning Olympic free skate, his other routine will be a surprise. Chen has been known for changing up jumps and routines at the last minute, so it’s fitting that he’ll dial it all in closer to the show. After all, he is in the middle of finals in his junior year at Yale right now, and though he still gets on the ice at least once or twice a week, his priority is school.
“I’m here trying to do the best I can in school, so skating is secondary. I definitely miss training every day, but at the same time, I have goals that I’m working toward off the ice,” he said, adding that he won’t pull out a quad “quite at this moment but perhaps in the future.”
But, even without any quads, witnessing Chen’s “Rocketman” in person, so close to the ice (even if you have bleacher seats), promises to be a memorable experience — and not one that many people get so up close and personal.
Nagasu will usher in some festive holiday spirit with “Have Yourself a Merry Little Christmas” by Sam Smith and also join her peers in a British salute.
“Sam Smith has a beautiful voice, and I just wanted to share the emotion and share the holiday spirit,” Nagasu said. “And, Nathan won the Olympics with Elton John, and Kaitlin and Jean Luc have an ‘Austin Powers’ number, and I didn’t want to get left out, so I chose the ‘Lord of the Rings’ … to pay tribute to a world and a franchise that I appreciate.”
Though you’d never guess it, even seasoned skaters like Nagasu admit to getting pre-performance jitters and say, even though it’s not a competition, it still takes “grit,” as Nagasu puts it, to get out there.
“No matter how much I perform, I’m always nervous because I’m excited to share my talent and hope people can take something away from it,” she said. “I love skating, and you just never know when you’ll be hit with a moment of creativity.”
As a coach, Nagasu tries to impart how essential sports like skating are.
“We learn to fall every day and get up. It’s frustrating at moments because you’re always pushing yourself. It takes a certain level of grit,” she said, adding, “As I get older, I’m more aware of an appreciation I have for my community. We’re all looking for a place of inclusion and skating is for everyone. During the holidays, the rink becomes more crowded and to see those happy faces, even if they fall, that’s something that unites all of us. For winter, I’m proud that skating is the exercise of choice because it’s the most accessible. You can literally glide around.”
Chen’s new book, “One Jump at a Time,” which he wrote after the Games, will be available to buy at the show, as well.
“I figured it would be a good time to reflect back on my career and all the things that I and my family and my team had to take to get (to the Olympics),” Chen said. “It forced me to reflect back on my career and it was a great opportunity to highlight my team members and everyone who helped … I didn’t do any of this, really, on my own. There was a whole host of people who helped … it was up and down, a trajectory, a lot of things I had to learn how to do — and to reorganize my mindset and realize that quantity is not everything.”
Reading Chen’s book provides greater insight and appreciation for what it takes to be an Olympic champion, as well as what a toll mastering so many quads takes on the body. (In fact, he has received treatment from Dr. Marc Philippon, so it’s fitting that The Steadman Clinic/Steadman Philippon Research Institute is a title sponsor of the show.)
“It’s going to be a really great cast at Vail, so hopefully we exhibit some joy and fun and some Christmas spirit,” Chen said. “I’m really excited to have all these great skaters come together.”