Figure Skater Karen Chen Opens Up About Olympic Dreams Ahead of 2018 Pyeongchang Games (Exclusive)
By Desiree Murphy
Harry How/Getty Images
Karen Chen is living her ultimate dream.
Born and raised in Fremont, California, by Taiwanese immigrants, the professional figure skater always knew she wanted to go for gold from the moment she first laced up her skates and stepped out onto the ice at age 5. The talented athlete, now 18, had dreams of following in the footsteps of her hometown hero, Kristi Yamaguchi, and now, that's exactly what she's doing.
Chen is gearing up to compete in her first Winter Olympics -- which kick off in Pyeongchang, South Korea, on Feb. 9 -- after making the U.S. women's figure skating team. She recently took a break from rehearsals to chat with ET over the phone, where she filled us in how she felt the moment she found out she would, in fact, be competing for a gold medal.
"It was such an amazing moment for me," Chen said, recalling the moment the team was announced shortly following the U.S. national championships, where she finished third. "I was sitting in my hotel room, just anticipating and waiting for that text. My doubts definitely kicked in. I was starting to think, 'Maybe I wasn't selected for the team.' But there was still that tentative hope in me, and I was just hoping and praying that I would get that text."
On Saturday, Jan. 6, it was officially announced that Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu and Chen would be representing Team USA in the individual women's category, with Ashley Wagner serving as an alternate.
"When I did, seriously, I just screamed," Chen continued. "My mom was in the room, and she looked at me, and she asked, 'Is this it?' And I said, 'Yes, it is.' It was a moment that I will never forget, and I really will cherish forever."
We often hear the term "train like an Olympian," so naturally, we had to ask Chen about what that really means, coming from someone who is doing it for the first time ever. For the 5-foot-tall skater -- who is "not a morning person" -- that means waking up between 6:30 and 7 a.m., which gives her plenty of time to get dressed, stretch and Google motivational quotes to kickstart her morning, before heading to the rink for an hour-and-a-half to two-hour skate session. After a break for lunch, it’s back on the ice again before a late-afternoon snack and a workout at the gym or Pilates or dance.
Chen explained that her love of dance actually exceeds beyond the studio. She choreographed her own routines for her short and long programs for the 2016-2017 season (when she was named the U.S. national champion), and is doing the same for the Olympics. "It's something that I truly love. The music choices are something that I feel very attached to, especially the short," she said. "It's very sentimental and I have a lot of emotions attached to it."
Chen continued, "I think putting that out there, skating at the Olympics with that kind of mindset and embracing my own choreography, knowing how much effort I have put into this, is really going to come through."
Chen also opened up about her close friendship with Kristi Yamaguchi, who won the gold medal in women's singles figure skating at the 1992 Winter Olympics. Chen credits her mentor for helping her "in so many ways," including what's sure to be the biggest moment of her professional ice skating career thus far.
"She's so inspiring. Before nationals, I sat down at a little café with her and we chatted for a little bit, which was extremely helpful," she recalled of their meetup at Bean Scene Cafe in their mutual hometown of Fremont. "All her advice and just her talking about her experiences just really helped me with mine."
Chen then revealed that two weeks ago, the two sat down again "at the same exact café, the same exact table, the same exact chairs, and we had the same exact drinks. We had the same exact conversation -- not about nationals, but about the Olympics. Hearing her talk about her experience and what she enjoyed the most and how she was able to prepare and stay focused, I feel like I really benefited from that and I’m really thankful for it."
Just days away from the opening ceremony, Chen says she's feeling "the best" she's felt all season. But more than anything, she's just happy to see the reaction from her family. As she discusses in her first book, Finding the Edge: My Life on the Ice, figure skating is an expensive passion and finances have always been a struggle for Chen and her family. She started a GoFundMe page last month, in hopes of raising enough money to get her parents and her younger brother, Jeffrey, to Pyeongchang.
She confirmed to ET that she has succeeded in that goal, and everyone will be there to cheer her on. "Yes, they will be there to watch me skate," she exclaimed. "I'm really happy and proud to say that. I'm really ecstatic that they'll be there every step of the way."
As for what an Olympic win would mean for the ice princess?
"It would mean so much to me," Chen revealed. "All my life, I've never wanted to think too far ahead, [but] once the thought of making the Olympic team had surfaced, I made that [dream a reality]. And now I can really start thinking about placing, and possibly [getting] gold."
Chen added, "Sometimes it may not seem realistic, but I feel like thinking about that ultimate goal that I really want, it helps motivate me, and it really helps push me to get better and stronger and work hard and smart. Anything is possible. I always try to tell myself that."