Moments before she made her first move, commentators were already questioning the 18-year-old ice skater's 2018 Winter Olympics routine — and whether or not the California-raised athlete would be able to perform under pressure. But the videos of Karen Chen skating before her Olympic debut prove otherwise.
The reigning national champion isn't due to hit the ice until next week, but one NBC analyst — in a video of Chen's full free skate Olympics performance at the 2017 Championships — stated that the young skater had "kind of been under the radar, and no one really talking about her because of her struggles this year."
She was selected to perform her free skate routine — a routine that she choreographed herself — as a part of Team USA during the 2018 Olympics. And, according to one NBC commentator who spoke during Chen's 2017 Championships performance, self-choreographing routines in the sport of ice skating is typically seen as "unorthodox." However, Chen's ability to self-choreograph certainly ended up working out in her favor. Her Championships performance opened with the sharp burst of violin from "Tango Jalousie," and, shortly thereafter, she nailed her first jump — a triple lutz, triple toe combination.
Chen continued to impress as her 2017 free skate routine progressed, with every dramatic musical moment serving as an exclamation point to her carefully-choreographed moves. The second half of her program got off to an exciting start, as she took on a double axel, a half loop, and a triple sow cow in succession — and she landed them all.
During a series of three difficult jumps that followed, however, Chen slipped-up as she attempted to execute the last of the three. You could tell, though, that Chen was more than satisfied with the way it went — she couldn't contain her happiness as the crowd went wild when she finished her routine, and her smile quickly turned into ecstatic tears of joy. Watching her perform an enhanced version of the routine during the women's figure skating event next week will likely have us all crying tears of joy, too.
It's probably safe to assume that Chen's friend and mentor, Olympic veteran and ice skating gold-medalist, Kristi Yamaguchi, is looking forward to her performance, too. In preparation for the Winter Games, Yamaguchi had some sage advice for Chen."The one major thing that I've told her is that for the Olympics you have to learn to insulate yourself from the pressure," she told InStyle. "I've always tried to keep her thinking positively because it's easy to let doubts creep into your head before a big performance like this."
Chen, however, recalled a different, stand-out piece of advice from Yamaguchi, when speaking with The Mercury News — a Bay Area newspaper close to Chen's hometown. "The one thought was funny: she told me to skate dumb,” Chen said. “Your body knows what to do. When you’re out there you just want to let your body do what it knows best and things will happen the way you want to.”
Chen's had some problems with her body in the recent past, according to an NBC Olympics article. After winning the U.S. national title in January 2017, Chen came in a disappointing 12th place at the Four Continents Championship. She had endured problems with her skating boots during her performance, an issue she later attributed to having had a growth spurt.
A knee injury caused Chen to have to withdraw from an Olympic-qualifying competition in Philadelphia a few months later, but she continued to improve — and eventually secured herself a spot on Team USA by placing third in the U.S. national championships in January 2018 (while also reportedly battling symptoms of the flu).
Chen's clearly a fighter, and her strength paid off. She'll have her chance to compete in the individual events, which begin on Feb. 21, and whether or not people thought so before — she's definitely one to watch.
Correction: A previous version of this article mislabeled the date of Karen Chen’s Olympic debut. It has been corrected to accurately reflect her career milestones.