Nathan Chen looks on after competing in the men's short program at the Olympic Winter Games PyeongChang 2018 on Feb. 16, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea.
GANGNEUNG, South Korea -- These Olympic Games have become full of new experiences for Nathan Chen, but the ones on the ice aren’t ones he’ll remember with any degree of fondness. Instead, his Olympic debut has been one of shock and disappointment.
Chen, who won this season’s Grand Prix Final and was the only undefeated men’s skater in the world this season, had multiple mistakes in the men’s short program and finished 17th.
“I honestly have never been in this position before, so I don't really know exactly what to do,” Chen said. “We'll talk to the rest of my team and figure out what to do.”
Much like when he represented the U.S. in the team event, Chen struggled through his program on Friday. He fell on his opening quadruple lutz, which was supposed to be connected to a triple toe loop. Chen then stumbled on his other two jumps as well, a quad toe and triple axel.
He had a solid warmup, and immediately following the performance, Chen didn’t have many answers.
“It just was rough,” Chen said. “Nothing really clicked together. I did all the right stuff going into it. It should have been different.”
Before Chen stepped onto the ice, the stage had been set by Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who leads after the short program. Hanyu, the 2014 Olympic champion, was so popular with the crowd his performance required more than two dozen children to collect all the stuffed Winnie the Poohs thrown onto the ice.
As the young girls began to clear and the crowd quieted, Chen waited for the announcer to call his name. Chen didn’t feel any more pressure than usual, he said. He’s performed after Hanyu before and skated well.
For Chen, who’s nicknamed the “Quad King” and was seen as a gold-medal contender in PyeongChang, the chance to prove he’s better than what he showed during the team event turned into much of the same. His score of 82.27 stands fewer than two points higher than his mark in the team event. Both are well off the scores he’s posted in his undefeated season heading into the Games.
Chen still has Saturday’s free skate left on his slate in PyeongChang, as do the other Team USA skaters.
Following a strong performance in the free skate during the team event, Adam Rippon landed in seventh place after the men’s short. Rippon chose not perform quads as Chen and Vincent Zhou did, and instead relies on his artistry.
“I want to show the world what I'm made of, and I want to show the world why I fell in love with skating,” said Rippon, a 28-year-old at his first Games. “It was because of awesome and inspiring Olympic performances and performances that were different. That's what I wanted to bring to the Olympic Games, and so far I'm two-for-two.”
Rippon pumped his fist and lay down on the ice for a moment after his short program. He joked that was because he’s much older than some of the other competitors and he needed a chance to catch his breath.
Zhou, who at 17 is the youngest U.S. athlete at these Games, became the first skater to ever land a quad lutz at the Olympic Winter Games (two more skaters cleanly landed their quad lutz later in the competition). Zhou had a couple small mistakes in his Olympic debut but still scored an international personal-best 84.53 to finish 12th.
Before Zhou skated, he had to remind himself to breathe. His mind whirled through his earliest memories at a skating rink and all that has led to this point.
“I try my best to live in the moment, enjoy it,” Zhou said. “And I did just that.”
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.