Chen hobbled only by boots

HELSINKI

Nathan Chen has blasted history, made history and defied history with his assembly of powerful quads this season. When the 17-year-old American defeated a savvy Olympic veteran in Yuzuru Hanyu at the Four Continents championships last month, well, the figure skating world just hasn’t been the same.

On the first day of the world figure skating championships this week, Chen held court in a frigid cave at the Hartwell Arena, on the first practice day, in front of a cast of a handful of die-hards, shivering under the rock.

During his run-through of his free program, Chen didn’t land five quads, but six quads as he motored his way about the ice on a pair of skates that can’t take the heat.

They are falling apart. He figures they will hold out until Thursday, the day of the men’s free. Therefore, he has packed with him a new pair of skates, and he has access to another pair from a boot manufacturer.  Chen doesn’t look worried.

Coach Rafael Arutunian says Chen slipped into his current boots for the first time only about four weeks ago, (after Four Continents) and already they have softened with the punishment of constant quad work.

This week, he’s holding them together with hockey laces, (“Every little bit helps,” Chen says) and praying that he won’t have to dip into that suitcase loaded with his weaponry. The laces are waxed, so they are stable in the boot.

Chen also had a problem with the way the boots were mounted. Arutunian says he carries about a pouch of tools to settle every such issues.

If Chen has any problems on the ice with these foot covers, it’s with the quad flip. He flipped out of one during his Monday run-through. He did others.

This is Chen’s first world championship, by the way. Such problems to have.

Aruturnian says he doesn’t know yet what the game plan is.

“We practice so many things that we don’t see yet,” he said. “But that is what sport is based on. I feel I have a company of production. I produce something. I try stuff.

“I get experience of how that works and then I make a decision. I don’t want to show that before it’s ready.”

As for the boots, they weigh heavily on Arutunian’s mind. “Boots have always been a problem, not only for him,” he said. “I think ice skating is improving and boots improve slower than skaters. Materials are something that could be done better. We have hard time with boots.

“They are too stiff and they get too quick soft. So there is very difficult to find the perfect timing: when to put them on to get the right time to be ready, to be not too soft and to be not too stiff.”

He thinks boot manufacturers should more often consult coaches, at least the ones who understand technique. If the boots are too stiff, a skater can’t use them for edges. If they are too soft, and a skater jumps, “they collapse,” Arutunian said.

The task to find boots that will do everything is going to get even harder, the coach said.

It’s definitely a concern whether or not Chen’s boots will last the week, he said. “At competitions, you always try harder. It’s adrenaline. “

At least, Arutunian said, Chen has skated in his spare boots, if he needs to pull them on at last moment. They will probably be a bit on the stiff side, mind.

But the way Chen seems to be: he’ll deal with it. He always seems to unruffled, despite his high-flying ways.

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