The 2020/21 season will stick in the memories of most skaters as probably the most unusual season of their career. Lockdowns and travel restrictions affected athletes worldwide throughout the year. However, while most Figure Skaters in Europe, in China or in the USA got the opportunity to participate at least in a few live competitions, athletes in Canada faced an especially difficult situation as basically all national live events were cancelled. So, when Nam Nguyen came to the ISU World Team Trophy in April, it was his first live competition in more than a year. This was not the only challenge he had to overcome.
Nam Nguyen (CAN) at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating (RUS) 2019©International Skating Union (ISU)
“For me, this year has been very challenging there have been a lot of personal changes in my life. And there is the whole Covid situation in Toronto and that has made it a lot more difficult to access ice times,” Nam shared. “I believe that Skate Canada did their absolute best in trying to provide opportunities or for the athletes to continue pushing ourselves. It may not have been ideal. But I'm so grateful for all the things that have come this season even if I was only able to compete twice and granted both competitions weren't that strong. I usually rely on the progression of each event to build my momentum and to build my confidence. It's been tough mentally, but I think I can use all this as experience and lessons to continue pushing myself becoming a better person, a better skater for the most important season which is coming up, the Olympic season.”
The pandemic took its toll, but Nam also faced other issues, for example getting into new skates just a few days before the ISU World Team Trophy, which did not make it easier for him to compete.
Nam Nguyen (CAN) at the ISU Four Contients Figure Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
Nguyen took part in a virtual competition organized by Skate Canada at the end of 2020 and it was an interesting experience. There were only a few officials present when he had to perform his program. “Obviously, we followed the (COVID-19) protocols very well, but in terms of the energy there were no judges, no audience. And I love to perform for other people. It was weird, but I got the job done,” the 22-year-old noted. “The odd thing about that whole thing was we had to wait for a month to see our videos and when our videos are being played I was actually driving to my new place. My friend put on the live stream and I can tell you it was the most stressful moment in my life because I kind of like knew what I was doing but I forgot some of the things that I did. To be honest, I didn't really enjoy that experience watching myself live and I would much rather do my skate, get in the Kiss and Cry and get scores right away.” Nevertheless, the two-time Canadian Champion was glad to have at least that opportunity. “I'm more than happy to participate in these virtual events because it gives us an opportunity to push ourselves and compete.”
In these uncertain times with all their mental challenges friendship is something that has helped Nam stay strong. It is interesting that his best friend is fellow Canadian skater Keegan Messing, his direct competitor. The athletes have been supporting each other – Nam supported Keegan during the ISU World Figure Skating Championships and Keegan was there for Nam during the ISU World Team Trophy.
“The stakes for Keegan at Worlds were a lot higher than for me at World Team Trophy and so I felt I should do my part being his best friend and keep up with him as much as he needed it which turned out to be every single day,” Nguyen shared. “We talked, we were on FaceTime for many hours and we just kind of tried to keep everything relaxed because he was a little stressed. There were a lot of things that he was dealing with like broken skates and the pressure of trying to get our second spot for the Olympics, but I honestly thought he did a wonderful job in composing himself and making sure that he did everything he needed to do. Then vice versa there a lot of things that I have been dealing with personally in the last few days leading up to the event (World Team Trophy) and Keegan knows about them. We were on FaceTime, every day up until I got on to the ice for the long program and he was just trying to be there to support me and being the best brother basically. I really appreciate it and he is an awesome guy.”
Interesting enough, Nam and Keegan were not always best buddies. Messing represented the USA, his country of birth, until 2014 before switching to Canada. “When he first moved to Canada I actually was not his biggest fan,” Nguyen admitted. “We never really talked to each other. We almost like disliked each other at that time. The first practices that we shared as teammates he kept cutting me off in practice and I was getting pretty frustrated with it. And then I started cutting him off in practice.”
This changed only in the 2017/18 Olympic season when the two skaters competed in one ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating together and got to know each other better. “We really came close together when we shared the same events. We did Four Continents in Anaheim (2019) and then Worlds in Saitama (2019). We shared so many great experiences together and I think that we really forged our brotherhood and since then we've just been keeping up with each other. Especially at home, when we are training, obviously with the time change it's been difficult, but we call each other at least twice a day just to be there for each other because I think Figure Skating is a very lonely sport,” Nam explained. “At the end of the day you are out there by yourself and we just want to make it easier for ourselves by letting each other know that we're there for you if you need anything. I think that bond that we have is very, very special and one that I will hold onto very dearly.”
Nam Nguyen (CAN) at the ISU World Team Trophy 2021©International Skating Union (ISU)
There have been many ups and downs in Nguyen’s career. “I've always viewed it as whatever terrible or negative experience I've had, I use that to shape who I am,” he pointed out. “Growing up the junior ranks, I wasn't doing too good in the Junior Grand Prix. I used all those negative experiences from those two (Junior) Grand Prix and it shaped me to become the skater that helped me win Junior Worlds (in 2014)”, he recalled. “Then I use that momentum to carry me through the senior ranks. I may not be a successful as Yuzuru (Hanyu) and Nathan (Chen), but there's so many things I can take for myself, which I'm very proud of. From here on I'm just going to keep looking forward.”
The next step might be the Olympic Qualifying competition in Oberstdorf, Germany, in September where a Canadian man will get the chance to earn a second Olympic quota place. Nam hopes to be the one selected, but he knows that competition is tough in Canada. “I would very much love to have that opportunity to solidify that spot. Obviously, it is up to Skate Canada. I just have to keep doing my best. There are a lot of guys that are going to be vying for that spot. As an athlete I obviously need to focus on my job and just let the motivation come to me and keep pushing myself.”