Resiliency and perspective help Chen ’25 win Olympic silver

woman ice skating in a competition

At 22, Karen Chen ’25 has skated on the world stage through injuries, hard-won victories, disappointing losses and, now, history-in-the-making moments. When an ankle injury threatened her 2022 Olympic performance, Chen relied on those past experiences to push through and help the U.S. figure skating team win silver in Beijing.

In the dark early hours just days before she would skate for the U.S., Chen sprained her ankle in a trip down stairs as she hurried to catch a bus for her pre-practice COVID test. While not enough to keep her off the ice, the injury meant she was in pain during her performances, including her fourth-place finish free skate.

“In those moments, knowing that I can't change it helps. If my ankle is going to hurt, it's going to hurt, it is what it is,” Chen said. “I just have to stay focused and do my job regardless, because at the end of the day, it doesn't matter how I feel. The only thing that matters is how I skate, which sounds like a lot of pressure, but that is the reality of being an athlete.”

I'm so honored to be a Cornellian, and I'm so grateful and thankful for all the support from Cornell and the students.

Karen Chen '25

Chen did not have a clean skate for her team short program, skated a spectacular long program for the team and then fell in her individual competition. When asked where she finds the resiliency to get up after a fall and keep skating, she said remembering she has been on the roller coaster before helps center her through the ups and downs.

“You can feel great, practices have been going well, and then you get out on the ice and for some reason all of a sudden you feel the pressure, you feel the stress, you feel all these things. Sometimes I rise to the challenge and feel great under all these circumstances. Other times, it just feels so scary. Knowing that I've had so many experiences of dealing with competitions helps me stay grounded and focused on what it is that I'm out there to do.”

Chen’s score of 131.52 in her free skate contributed to the U.S. team’s final score of 65, second to the Russian Olympic Committee whose gold medal is in doubt after one of its players tested positive for doping. Chen and her teammates went home without their medals, awaiting a decision that is likely to take some time.

Karen Chen with Cornell bear and skating at Lynah Rink

On a recent visit to campus this spring, Karen Chen '23 stopped by the Cornell Store and did some skating at Lynah Rink.

“It's honestly really crazy, in the moment, and so overwhelming, but I know that once it all passes it will be a story I tell. I was there at the Olympics when there was a doping scandal and then shortly after an invasion. It's really unfortunate, and I don't know how else to describe all of it.”

A human development major in the College of Human Ecology, Chen was in her freshman year when the pandemic hit and she decided to take a two-year leave to focus on skating. With the U.S. team’s Olympic win, she became the first Cornellian to medal in figure skating.

Though she is not yet set on her career goals, her experiences as an athlete receiving medical treatment have inspired a deep interest in the world of medicine, and she appreciates that her major is on a pre-med track. Chen said she is excited to be returning to campus and the Cornell community in the fall.

“I'm so honored to be a Cornellian, and I'm so grateful and thankful for all the support from Cornell and the students. Seeing the posts on social media during the Olympics made me feel really special and so lucky to have that support from my school. It definitely made my day, 100%.”