LAS VEGAS — Nathan Chen would love little more than to become the first man to win four straight U.S. figure skating championships since Brian Boitano achieved the feat in the mid-1980s.
But with nationals still three months away, and an entire Grand Prix season on the horizon, the 20-year-old phenom refuses to get distracted with more pressing matters on the ice.
Chen, who has won the last two world titles, is one of 18 athletes who will compete Friday and Saturday at Skate America in the first event of the season at the Orleans Arena.
"You want to set that as a goal," Chen said of nationals, which will be held in late-January in Greensboro, North Carolina. "Realistically there's a lot of great skaters in the U.S., so if I dwell on that too much it's like I'm blinding myself from the actual things that I should be focusing on.
"Right now," Chen said, "that's not necessarily my direct focus. You don't think too far ahead, it can be detrimental to your success, so you got to take it day-by-day."
Along with Chen, the two-day competition features 2018 U.S. women's champ Bradie Tennell, reigning U.S. pairs champions Ashley Cain-Gribble and Timothy LeDuc, and Grand Prix Final champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue in dance. Karen Chen, who was on the 2018 Olympic team, and Jason Brown, who was on the 2014 team, are also in a field that includes multiple big-name international competitors.
Among them are 2018 Skate America silver medalist Kaori Sakamoto of Japan and China's two-time world bronze medalist Boyang Jin.
Nathan Chen, a full-time student at Yale, also will participate in the Internationaux de France, the third of six competitions leading to the Grand Prix Final, which will be staged in Turin, Italy, in December. The top six finishers in overall points in each discipline qualify for the final.
Each competitor can accrue points from only two events.
Chen, who took the gold medal at the 2018 final to cap dream season, said he considers the Grand Prix to be the start of the regular season, in that it leads up to the world championships.
"It holds a lot of weight," said Chen, who recently debuted his new long program in the lower-tier Japan Open, where he took first place. "We're all trying to qualify for the Grand Prix finals. However, because of the fact that it's earlier we still are developing, and still preparing ourselves for improving throughout the season. I think all the skaters really do prioritize this Grand Prix season as a really great opportunity to continue growing and putting our new programs out there."
Chen, who was born in Salt Lake City, said he spent the summer in California working and training for the upcoming season. He's also been listening to new music to implement and working with a trainer to keep his body in shape for the work-school grind.
Chen said the sport continues to evolve and he knows his competition has gotten better.
"We're not going to these competitions to lose," he said. "We want to be the very best that we can to continue to improve ourselves. I don't want to fall behind. I think they're all extremely competitive people, not necessarily just on the ice, just in general. Their personalities, their character — they're very competitive. So it's really nice to be able to sort of have that drive from the other skaters, which helps you push yourself."