Nathan Chen’s Success Reflects Asian American Growth in Figure Skating

American Age Official

Mirai Nagasu, a former national champion and two-time Olympian (2010, 2018), grew up working at her parents’ Japanese restaurant, where they eked out enough money to pay for her lessons. Nagasu laughed remembering how much it meant to her, as a young skater, to learn that Kwan’s parents had owned a restaurant, too. (Chin’s parents also owned a Chinese restaurant, and Liu’s father worked in one before she was born.)

Naomi Nari Nam, who won a silver medal at the 1999 national championships, noted that the rise of Asian American participation had also coincided with the success of skaters from East Asia, like Yuna Kim of South Korea.

“When I started skating, I was the one out of two Asian skaters in my rink, in Costa Mesa, Calif.,” said Nam, whose success led to an appearance on “The Tonight Show” at age 13 and a run of television appearances and commercials in Korea. “I coach now in Lakewood, Calif., and around 90 percent of my clientele is Asian or half Asian.”

Still, the sport was not always accommodating to them.

When Chin skated, she was often called “China Doll” by commentators and journalists. Articles from the time refer to her “porcelain complexion” and “Oriental roots.” She was called a “siamese cat” and “unemotional” and an “exotic beauty.”

Nam was placed in an etiquette class by her coach so she could learn how to interact with the predominantly white officials and judges who could decide her fate in skating.

“He knew that it was a different culture,” Nam said.

Skaters said that while explicit racism inside figure skating felt rare, many acknowledged that they received racist comments on social media. Alysa Liu learned over time to tune out harassing messages. But some incidents, in a time when violence and hate against Asian Americans has increased, have been harder to ignore. Liu, who has spoken about her growing awareness of social issues, called her father one recent night, struggling to sleep after reading about the shooting of a 71-year-old Chinese man in Chicago.

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