Meet the Athletes: Karen Chen

Karen Chen poses with hands on hips - Credit: NBC Olympics

Karen Chen poses with hands on hips – Credit: NBC Olympics

American figure skater Karen Chen made her Olympic debut in 2018, placing 11th in women’s singles at the PyeongChang Games. She withdrew from the 2018 World Championships, however, and dealt with injury throughout the 2018-19 season. 

She staged a full comeback during the 2019-20 campaign, while enrolled for her freshman year at Cornell University, and ended the season with a seventh-place finish at the 2020 Four Continents Championships. 

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Chen took a leave of absence from Cornell to focus on training. She took bronze at the 2021 U.S. Championships, then fourth at the 2021 World Championships, helping to earn the United States three women’s spots for the 2022 Winter Olympics. 

As part of our preparation for the 2022 Winter Games, NBC Olympics sent questionnaires to multiple athletes to learn more about their lives both inside and outside of sports. Here’s what we found out about Chen:

Tell us about your family.

My parents moved to California, where they had my brother and me, shortly after they got their master’s degrees at Syracuse University. My brother is three years younger than me, but he is so much taller than me. I remember when we were around the same height and everyone thought we were twins!

How influential were your parents in your athletic career?

My parents played a huge role in my athletic career, especially in the beginning. Since I was a really shy kid growing up, trying new things was extremely challenging, however, because of how supportive and encouraging my parents were, I was able to stumble into the figure skating world. As I got more and more into this sport, my mom’s competitive nature and my dad’s patience rubbed off on me, which helped me grow me desire to succeed in this sport while still understanding that goals take time and trust to come true.

Describe a typical training day.

I wake up between 6 to 7 a.m. I enjoy having a slow morning to get ready for the day. I don’t start going through my stretches and warm ups until 9 or so. I’m basically at the rink from 9:40 a.m. to 2:00 p.m. I do have breaks between sessions where I am sure to get some fuel in. After I’m done skating for the day, I usually head to the gym for a workout or PT for recovery and maintenance.

What’s the most grueling workout you’ve ever done?

Cardio work on an elliptical or bike is never fun, however, when I’m done with the workout, it’s one of the best feelings ever.

Anything experimental in your training?

I recently started using a little gadget I clip on my waistband and it tracks how fast I rotate in the air as well as the number of jumps I do in a day. The data I receive from it really helps me track how my body is feeling and reacting.

How did you prepare during the COVID-19 pandemic?

I was with family during lockdown. I wasn’t able to train on the ice at all, so I definitely tried to get creative with off-ice training. I did a lot of YouTube workout videos and played a lot of “Just Dance” on the Nintendo Switch. My brother and I would try to outscore each other on “Just Dance” to the point where I considered it a form of cardio work!

SEE MORE: Grand Prix France: American Karen Chen finishes 5th

What’s your nutrition plan?

Breakfast: Two eggs, toast, piece of fruit
Lunch: Yogurt with fruit and granola
Snack 1: Sargento snack pack
Snack 2: Skinny Pop
Dinner: Chicken breast with a side salad and lots of grilled veggies
Dessert: Yogurt or fruit

Do you have a favorite indulgence food?

Meal: Korean BBQ or pan fried dumplings!

Snack: kettle corn!

Sessert: Ice cream! (Either Talenti or Ben & Jerry’s)

Who’s your most interesting teammate?

Jason Brown because he is so positive 24/7; it’s truly so inspiring!

Do you have a Summer Olympics buddy?

I would love to meet Simone Biles or Naomi Osaka.

What advice would you give to a younger skater?

To not be afraid of falling, because ice is slippery and everyone falls!

Has anyone told you that you wouldn’t succeed?

Yes, it’s not easy to hear, but what helps me overcome that is knowing how much the people that mean the most to me (family, friends, coaches) believe in me and my abilities. At the end of the day, it doesn’t matter what other people think, as long as I believe in myself and put in the work, I strongly believe that I can accomplish my goals.

Any pre-competition rituals?

I always make sure to tie my left skate first and then my right. Then I stand up to “feel” my skates and then tighten both of my skates a tiny bit more.

Any superstitions?

I always wear the jade necklace I received from my grandparents when I born. I started wearing it when I got my very first injury; that’s when my mom gave me this necklace to wear because she told me that when she was a kid, she would wear her jade necklace 24/7 and it would protect her. I still wear it today and whenever I get a bit uneasy or anxious, I find myself touching the rabbit shaped jade pendant for reassurance.

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