Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Karen Chen...and the Two-Minute Drill

At nearly 12-and-a-half years old and one of the youngest competitors in the Novice Ladies competition at the US Figure Skating National Championships in San Jose, CA, Karen Chen wowed the audience with two amazing performances last week. She was the only novice to try six triple jumps en route to her 10-point win.

Karen, who is a local Bay Area skater, from Fremont, CA, is coached by Sherri Krahne-Thomas and Gilley Nicholson.
Karen doing a spin
As a few reporters were waiting as Karen was tying and retying her skates at Sharks Ice, the Practice Ice for the competition, we learned that it typically takes her a while before she gets on the ice. According to Gilley, “It just how long it takes. She only has one pair of skates and they have to feel just right. She warms up the same way, has a special routine…warming up and stretching, which is needed for the spins. Otherwise, there could be injuries.”

The maximum skating time for a pair of skates for Karen is six months. They just break down from the impact of landing. New skates cost $1,000 pair.
Karen practices six days a week, two hours in the morning and two in the afternoon. She is home schooled, which gives her a little more balance in her schedule (not having to wake up so early for practice!). She does miss playing with her friends on the playground, but keeps up with them through email. However, Karen was quick to add that she loves what she is doing.

I talked to Karen after she won the 2012 Ladies Novice Championship and here is what she shared.
PJ: How did it feel winning your first US Nationals?
Karen: I was excited. I put in lots of effort for this, tons of hard work. When I won, I was partially shocked. I did not perform as clean a program as I would have liked. Yet, I still hung on for the gold.

After I landed my first three jumps [in the long program], I felt so far, so good. I was enjoying it and got momentum and tried to keep it.

PJ: Which program, long or short, did you like the best?
Karen: I really like my short program. It’s much easier. It’s more graceful. The Tango has sharper movements, a different facial expression for the music [more serious] and it’s harder.

PJ: What is your favorite move?
Karen: I like the spins. It’s hard work to get them and I finally got back to where I feel good. I look up at the ceiling and it feels…it’s what I want to do. I try not to think of too many things or I lose focus. I am concentrating on the current position I am doing and try not to get ahead of myself.

PJ: What is it like to have Kristi Yamaguchi as a mentor?
Karen: I appreciate her help. She gives suggestions, answers questions. [For example] she said, for the butterflies I get right before I step on the ice, ‘pretend you got an invitation, like to a party…go out and have fun out there.’

It’s exciting and feels almost unreal to skate with an Olympic champion. It feels like a dream.

PJ: What is the most important thing you get from your coaches?
Karen: I appreciate their help very much. I’m not perfect and there have been lots of times things are not working. They are always there to help me.

PJ: Do you have a special place at home for this gold medal?
Karen: Yes, I do. I have some trophies on a specific corner of a table. When I look at them, I feel proud of myself.

PJ: I saw all the stuffed animals that were thrown on the ice after your performances. Do you have a favorite one?
Karen: I got a huge cinnamon roll. I love it so much! One of my friends made it. The ones I like the most I keep on my bed and some on a shelf. I like Snoopy and I love the rink in Santa Rosa with Snoopy on the Zamboni.

A kindred spirit—we are both Snoopy fans. The rink in Santa Rosa, California, is the one built by Charles Schulz, Snoopy’s creator.
Remember this name…Karen Chen…she will be on the US Olympic team one day.