Five Olympic ice skaters, fresh off competing in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, were celebrated Sunday by hundreds of fans outside the Great Park Ice & Fivepoint Arena, the training home for the athletes.
Fans waved mini U.S. flags and held up homemade signs with the names of their favorite Olympians written with multi-colored markers.
Some wore face masks fashioned out of the stars and stripes.
The Olympians sat side-by-side on a stage, beneath a balloon archway and five Olympic rings, taking part in a panel discussion on their experiences.
Fielding questions were Nathan Chen, who captured gold in Beijing, singles skater Mariah Bell, Czech skater Michal Brezina and the U.S. pairs skaters, Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier, who took home silver in the team event with the rest of the US squad, including Chen.
The athletes were joined by coaches Rafael Artyunyan and Todd and Jenni Sand.
Questions centered around the athletes’ overall experience in Beijing, training at the Great Park rink and the importance of maintaining mental health.
There were light moments, too.
Chen was asked about receiving a congratulatory Twitter message from singing legend Elton John, who praised Chen for his win and skating to John’s song, Rocket Man, during his routine.
“I mean the fact that he knows that I exist is pretty amazing,” Chen said.
Restrictions imposed because of COVID-19 did dampen the Olympic experience a little, said Brezina, who competes for the Czech Republic but trains at the Great Park rink. “It was different than the other three Olympics I went to.
“Just from the fact that we couldn’t go anywhere or see anything and experience the culture and get the feeling of where we were,” he said.
Bell was asked to give some advice to the dozens of young skaters in the audience who might aspire to become Olympians.
“It took me a long time to get here,” said Bell, who is the oldest U.S. women’s singles skater to compete in the Olympics since 1928. “I’m 25, which is not super young for ladies skating, but I want people to know that there is not an age limit on what you can do, but also if you love what you are doing, that is the best way to have success.
“I was really fortunate to have a great support system,” she said, “and so it didn’t matter how long it took. I got there.”
In reference to Olympic gymnast Simone Biles, who withdrew from multiple events in the Tokyo games to focus on her mental well-being, the Olympians were asked how they stay sound mentally.
Chen pointed to his own lapse in the 2018 Olympics in South Korea when he fell during a routine and failed to medal.
Chen said Biles, and other Olympians who’ve been open about the mental health challenges of competition, are trailblazers.
“I think it is important to speak about their problems and the real truth about their lives,” he said. “I think experiencing that firsthand, I didn’t realize that I could have taken a moment to take a step back and recognize that I am here as an athlete, but I am also a human person.”
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