Nathan Chen thrust himself firmly into the Olympic gold contention talk by becoming the first man to land five quadruple jumps in international competition, earning gold Sunday at the Four Continents Championships in the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, South Korea.
Skating in the venue that will host the Olympic competition in a year’s time, the 17-year-old looked at ease as he flowed through his stunning array of five quads during Sunday’s free skate on his way to the highest total score of the season, a 307.46 that gave him the victory in a showdown with reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.
“There were some mistakes here and there. There are definitely things I need to work on, but I’m certainly happy with the way everything went and I’m so happy that I got the gold medal today," Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating.
Third after the short program, Hanyu received a season’s best total of 303.71 to move past teammate Shoma Uno to the silver medal. A two-time Grand Prix Final bronze medalist, Uno took bronze at 288.05 for his first Four Continents medal.
Though Chen won, Hanyu won the free skate with a score of 206.67 to Chen’s 204.34.
The result sets up an intriguing rubber match at the upcoming world championships, set for March 29-April 2 in Helsinki, Finland: Chen took silver to Hanyu’s gold at November’s NHK Trophy and again at December’s Grand Prix Final, then turned the tables in Gangneung.
“It’s a great experience for me," Chen said of competing at his first Four Continents. "It’s my second major event, internationally, as a senior – the first being the Final, besides my two grand prix assignments. I’ve competed against Yuzuru a few times now, and it’s really great to be able to train on the same ice as him and the other top skaters – to be on the same practices and see what they’re doing has been a great experience for me.”
Chen continues a meteoric rise that in his first year of senior international competition saw him become the youngest American man ever to win a grand prix medal, when he took silver at NHK Trophy. He then became the second-youngest from any country to win a Grand Prix Final medal.
Not content to just be the first American to land four quads in a single program, which he did on the way to a bronze at the 2016 national championships, he upped the ante by becoming the first skater in the world to hit five quads one year later at the 2017 nationals in Kansas City, Missouri.
Four Continents was his first competition since that historic outing, and his performance solidified his status as a name to be reckoned with next year. A personal best short program score of 103.12, the third-highest ever recorded, perched him atop a list that included Hanyu and Uno, Jin Boyang of China and Patrick Chan of Canada, all of whom have collected Olympic, Youth Olympic or world championship hardware and have been part of the PyeongChang medals discussion.
Chen’s athleticism and youth have some hoping for a renaissance in American men’s figure skating, a return to the 1980s and early 90s, when the likes of Charlie Tickner, Scott Hamilton, Brian Boitano and Paul Wylie had Team USA on the podium at four consecutive Olympic Games. Only two medals have been won since: Timothy Goebel’s bronze in 2002 and Evan Lysacek’s gold in 2010.
Team USA saw all three men finish in the top-10 as Jason Brown was sixth and Grant Hochstein ninth. Chen’s gold brings the American medal haul to four, joining the women’s bronze by Mirai Nagasu and two ice dance medals, silver by Maia and Alex Shibutani and bronze by Madison Chock and Evan Bates.