Pursuing passions, new and old

Nathan Chen won gold at the Beijing Olympics — and then returned to Yale as a data science major with an appreciation for college traditions.
Nathan Chen

Nathan Chen (Photo by Dan Renzetti)

Nathan Chen always knew his Yale career would be split in two: when he arrived in the fall of 2018, the figure skater already had the 2022 Winter Olympics in his sights, and would need to take time off to prepare and compete.

While on campus, the demands of training meant that his days were packed, with classes in the morning and rink time in the afternoon. And even as he carried a full course load, he embarked on a remarkable competitive winning streak, earning a world title, two U.S. titles, and first place in two Grand Prix Finals and four individual Grand Prix events during his freshman and sophomore year.

During two years of leave, he continued to dominate the sport, all the way to the Beijing Olympics. There, in February 2022, Chen won gold in men’s singles figure skating, with a record-setting short program and an electric free skate, during which he completed five clean quad jumps.

Three people standing in a lobby with a sign that reads "Mammoth Bioscience"
Chen with his sister Janice (left), co-founder of Mammoth Biosciences, and Jennifer Kwan.

The months after his win were a whirlwind. He visited talk shows (Jimmy Fallon, who he taught to land an axle, was a highlight) and traveled with his teammates, touring Japan and the U.S. with Stars on Ice. Yet when he returned to Yale in the fall of 2022, it was with a renewed sense of excitement at becoming a student again.

A statistics and data science major, he immersed himself in his studies — while still making time for some of the experiences he’d missed the first time around. He chose to live on campus in his residential college, Jonathan Edwards (JE), and found a sense of belonging there.

I didn’t really know that many people coming back, so it was really helpful to have that community and a group of people I could rely on and fall back on,” Chen said. “They were very JE people — so they brought me to intramural sports, Wet Monday [the college’s annual water fight], things that were integral to the JE experience. Previously I hadn’t done that, so that was quite nice.”

He also found new areas of inspiration in his academic life, particularly with Jennifer Kwan, an assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine and a physician-scientist whose research focuses on cardio-oncology. The work in Kwan’s lab brought Chen “a blossoming interest and passion outside of skating,” he said. 

Their work leverages genetics and other -omics data which fortunately aligns with my data science background,” he said. “I’m learning a lot of new skills and exploring the world of medicine and health care from an angle that isn’t only sports medicine. It’s built a perspective of a career I would like to pursue in the future.” 

To that end, after graduation he plans to start a year-long post-baccalaureate program in Baltimore to fulfill his pre-med requirements.

A group of men wearing ice skates on an ice rink
Chen (far left) with fellow cast members at The Ice, a touring ice show in Japan.

While he’s relished his time as a student, Chen is still an Olympic champion — and, with typical focus, he’s made the most of his raised public profile. In the past two years, he’s performed again with Stars on Ice, written two books (one a memoir, the other a children’s book), attended the 2023 White House Lunar New Year celebration, and filmed a music video.

He also works with philanthropic organizations, including StandUP for Kids, a national non-profit program that works to end youth homelessness; Figure Skating in Harlem; and Athletes for Hope.

He doesn’t rule out competing in the 2026 Olympics — it just isn’t really on his mind right now.

But skating remains an integral part of his Yale experience. Most Tuesdays and Thursdays, he’d take the ice during free skate at Ingalls Rink (also known as “The Whale”). It remains one of his most treasured Yale spots, he said, and where he felt most himself.

Being at the Whale — being able to be on the ice, that’s a memory I’ll take with me,” Chen said. “It was a haven away from everything.”

Share this with Facebook Share this with X Share this with LinkedIn Share this with Email Print this