GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- Nathan Chen stepped onto the ice at Gangneung Ice Arena as an individual Olympic gold-medal favorite, and he finished his first performance in PyeongChang disappointed.
Chen had multiple mistakes, including a fall on his triple axel, in the men’s short program portion of the figure skating team event, but the 18-year-old is still in the running for two medals at these Games.
“Right now all I can do is try to analyze what I did wrong and then just let it go and move on,” Chen said.
In this event, Chen could still be part of a U.S. team that finishes on the podium. Thanks to a strong pairs performance from married couple Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, Team USA stands in second behind Canada in the team event, which will continue on Sunday with the pairs free skate, women’s short program and short dance. Both the Knierims and Chen placed fourth in their respective short programs.
Even though this event turns an individual sport into a team affair, the Knierims didn’t feel any added pressure when they saw Chen’s performance while riding the bus to the rink.
“He could have skated the Olympic record short program,” Chris said. “We still needed to come out here and perform for the team. It could happen to us. It could have been the opposite so we have to come out and compete, skate well for ourselves and for our team.”
In his first time competing on Olympic ice, Chen missed adding a planned triple toe loop to the end of his quadruple flip and turned his quadruple toe loop into a double. Later in the program, he fell on his triple axel. But he doesn’t think nerves played a role in the mishaps.
“I felt really comfortable, pretty relaxed, ready to go,” Chen said. “I was just a little bit ahead of myself. … I think I was a little too excited and that kind of got the best of me.”
Chen will have a chance to improve his short program when he begins his quest for an individual Olympic medal on Feb. 16. He could take part in the free skate portion of the team event, if Team USA doesn’t use one of its two substitutions for that discipline.
"He's handling it really well, so I hope he knows that it's very normal to have not a great skate,” said Patrick Chan, a three-time Olympian and three-time world champion from Canada. “It's part of the experience. It's part of the Olympics. You have a long time before any of these Games, so just cherish the moment even if it's not the best one."
Chen might have been affected by the early start time, he said. He arrived to the rink at 6 a.m., a bit earlier than he would for a normal practice. He didn’t skate until five hours later. However, the rest of the Games will feature similar circumstances with long periods at the rink, so he plans to use this experience to help him in the coming weeks.
“I'm not going to show that I'm happy and try to fake it if I'm genuinely not,” Chen said. “That's definitely how I felt, but again, it's a good experience and I'm definitely going to learn from it for the next competition.”
Emily Giambalvo is a student in the sports media program at the University of Georgia’s Grady College of Journalism and Mass Communication. She is part of TeamUSA.org’s coverage team for the PyeongChang Games.