The last time Karen Chen skated in an international competition, nothing went right. She took to the ice at the 2017 Four Continents Championships and finished a disastrous 12th. Despite skating at the 2018 Olympic venue, the PyeongChang Olympic Winter Games couldn't have been a more distant thought.
When she came home to train and reset for the world championships, mentor Kristi Yamaguchi, the 1992 Olympic gold medalist, had some advice for her: "skate dumb." Essentially, clear your mind and let your body do what it's been trained to do.
As she took the ice for her short program at the 2017 ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Chen did just that. She earned a personal-best score of 69.98, good enough for fifth place to lead the U.S. women after the short program.
“[Four Continents] was a disappointment but I do feel like it was a wake-up call for me," Chen said. "It helped me realize that it’s all about the experience and that I’m still learning the process and it really helped me realize that I really need to work on being mentally prepared for competitions.”
Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva leads the field with 79.01, followed by two Canadian skaters, Katelyn Osmond with 75.98 and Gabrielle Daleman with 72.19. Ashley Wagner sits seventh with 69.04 and Mariah Bell is 13th with 61.02.
Bell was the first U.S. skater to take the ice. Though she put her hand down on the landing of her opening triple lutz-triple toe combination, she fought past it for an otherwise solid skate to put her temporarily into second place.
Chen was next for Team USA, taking the ice in the second-to-last group. She skated a clean performance, her score vaulting her into second place with nine skaters left to compete. Despite clean performances from almost the entire final group of skaters, she managed to hang onto her top-five placement heading into the long program.
“I am very happy with my performance," Chen said. "I just really wanted to skate a clean short and I just did that and I’m really happy with how everything came together.”
Wagner, the defending world silver medalist, found herself skating in the middle of the final group and after Medvedeva, the reigning world champion and two-time Grand Prix Final champion. Though she skated a strong program without a fall or even a visible bobble, she received low grades of execution and her score suffered for it.
"I know that I am in fighting distance," Wagner said. "I really do not have that much to catch up on. Beyond that, it’s about me being the most solid of these ladies. We have a really competitive group of girls so it’s just being the best of those ladies on that day.”
Though not currently represented in medal position, Chen and Wagner's scores bode well for the U.S. women. Both are within striking distance of the podium, only 3.15 points separating seventh and third place. But should these placements hold, it would achieve another major world championship goal: earn three Olympic quota spots. To do so, the top two U.S. placements must add up to 13 or less. Fifth and seventh place add up to 12 and would get the job done.
Next up in Helsinki is the pairs short program. The men's short and the short dance follow on Thursday morning.