Ice Network

Champs Camp Chatter: Chen authors first book

Wagner, Bell keep training simple; Nagasu continues building programs
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Karen Chen's first book, Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice, will be available in bookstores on Nov. 28. -Courtesy of Karen Chen

It took some encouragement -- from her agent, Yuki Saegusa; her mentor, 1992 Olympic champion Kristi Yamaguchi, and others -- to convince Karen Chen to write a book.

At age 17, she had so much left to accomplish, especially this season.

"Oh, I wasn't the one who said, 'I want to write a book!'" Chen, now 18, remembers with a laugh. "I felt a little uncomfortable. I have not made the Olympic team yet -- I haven't done all of these things I want to do -- but Yuki told me it was a great opportunity to reach younger kids and tweens, to try to inspire and motivate."

So, Chen worked with co-author Natalie England and HarperCollins Publishers for several months, telling her story from the first time she stepped on to the ice in Fremont, California, a dozen years ago.

Included in that flashback was Chen's climb up the U.S. ranks, during which she won intermediate (2010) and novice (2012) titles; her fight back to the competitive arena following a right ankle fracture; winning a senior U.S. medal at age 15; and capturing the U.S. title last season.

The result, Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice, with a foreword from Yamaguchi, will be on sale Nov. 28.

"It's (about) the obstacles I faced and how I overcome them and achieve some successes," Chen said. "The story is about the progress, but at the end, I still have so many hopes and dreams I want to accomplish. I do feel this book is very special and I'm so happy I had this opportunity to do this."

Chen arrived at this month's Champs Camp having tested her programs at the Glacier Falls Summer Classic last month, scoring well for her "Tango de Roxanne" short and Carmen free skate, both choreographed by Mark Pillay. She competed her short at the Philadelphia Summer International earlier this month but withdrew prior to the free skate due to a bruised knee, which is now healed.

"Every time she goes out, I want her to attack," said Tammy Gambill, Chen's coach. "That's the goal this year: keep pushing through. And we're going for the (triple) flip in the short this year. It's a bit more (in value), and she feels comfortable with it."

Chen has set the ambitious goal of medaling at both of her Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and Skate America. In four previous Grand Prix competitions, her highest placement is a pair of fifth-place finishes.

"You can't just show up at nationals and peak and count on making the Olympic team," she said. "In the past, I've just never been able to skate well at my Grand Prix events. I know that I can do it, it's just a matter of me going out there and doing what I can do. Don't be scared, just go do it.

"I also definitely want to defend my (U.S.) title. There are so many things I want to do this year, I just have to train really hard and figure it all out."

Wagner, Bell sticking to basics

For Ashley Wagner, this summer's training has been more of the same, in the best of ways.

"Raf (coach Rafael Arutunian) and I just drilled the technical," she said. "We've been working on the triple-triple combination, on making the jumps bigger, on intricate exits and entrances. So, it's really taking what I have and tuning it up more. It's the same thing every year, and there's nothing wrong with that, because that's what's going to get me there."

Wagner, who narrowly lost out on a fourth U.S. title last season, will square off against the younger Chen at Skate Canada and Skate America this fall. Unlike Chen -- who is slated to compete at the U.S. International Figure Skating Classic in Salt Lake City next month -- Wagner does not plan to enter a Challenger Series event, although she said she might test her programs at a local club competition.

"Obviously, there is something important about the Grand Prix season for the selection of the (Olympic) team, but also my focus is on being competitive internationally," Wagner said. "The two kind of go hand in hand. I'm going into every event to be competitive against the top ladies in the world. … My goal this season is not to be national champion; it's to be an Olympic medalist."

Wagner's training partner, Mariah Bell, also went back to basics with Arutunian at their rink in Lakewood, California. It's an opportunity the U.S. bronze medalist didn't have last season, since she joined the group in August and quickly embarked on a series of competitions, including two Challenger Series events and Skate America, where she won the silver medal.

"After worlds, I took two weeks off, and then I just trained," Bell said. "I didn't do any competitions this summer, except for last weekend I did a small competition in California (Orange County FSC Open Championships). I've really just been working on the basics of exercises for different jumps, to improve the quality of jumps. It's really awesome there has been individual time with him; I didn't get that last season, and it's really helped a lot."

Like Chen, Bell competes in Salt Lake City next month, where she's anxious to show off her West Side Story free skate, choreographed by Cindy Stuart.

"I used the music as a junior, and I really loved it," she said. "I was trying to decide for two months what I was going to skate to, but then I turned back to what I loved before. I'm using some different pieces and vocals, which is really cool. I love the program; I feel it's set up really well and the difficult jumps are in the part of the program where I can breathe. It's not super fast and chaotic."

Nagasu building on summer progress

Mirai Nagasu arrived at Champs Camp in fighting shape, having debuted her new free skate, choreographed by Jeff Buttle to music from Miss Saigon, at Skate Detroit last month. The 2008 U.S. champion, who was fourth in the U.S. last season, tried her triple axel three times there, landing the jump but failing to get full credit for its 3 1/2 revolutions.

"[Miss Saigon] has been a work in progress, and the program has really come together for where we are in the season, so it's been a good summer so far," Nagasu said. "I think this music really tells a story. Even within the transitions and each part of the program, I think I really feel I am [the character]. I just really want to portray that to the audience."

She was reticent to discuss her plans for the axel, saying only, "It would be great to have the axel become a consistent part of my repertoire, and to rely on it for those (8.5 base value) points."

Tom Zakrajsek, who coaches Nagasu at Colorado Springs' World Arena, was less shy, using social media to post video of Nagasu landing a big, clean triple axel at Champs Camp practice.

"Mirai's triple axel really looks like a man's triple axel; it doesn't look like the typical women's triple axel -- Mirai jumps it more," Zakrajsek said. "The more height you have, the more time there is for something to go wrong. Jumps that are a little lower, that spin a little more on the toe pick and hips on the take-off, tend to be more stable."

Zakrajsek thinks Nagasu will have more success with the axel in competition this season, due to earlier planning.

"Last year, even though Mirai could do the triple axel and we played around with adding it to the program, the program wasn't set for a triple axel -- we were switching things around to put the axel in," he said. "This year, both programs have been made by Jeff [Buttle] so she could include the jump right from the get-go, and I think that's going to help her a lot."