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After Historic Short Program, Nathan Chen Is A Routine Away From Olympic Gold

By Lynn Rutherford | Feb. 08, 2022, 1:29 a.m. (ET)

Nathan Chen skates during the Men Single Skating Short Program at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 8, 2022 in Beijing, China.

 

BEIJING –  Nathan Chen overcame a huge hurdle toward Olympic gold on Tuesday with an emotionally captivating and technically superb short program at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium that earned 113.97 points, the highest ever score for a men's short program.

“It definitely means a lot to be able to have the opportunity to come back to an Olympics and then have the other opportunity to do two short programs, and have both go as well as I could have hoped,” Chen said. 

In PyeongChang, the then 18-year-old skater had a disappointing short in the team event and placing 17th in the individual short program, before winning the free skate and pulling up to fifth place overall.

Thus far in the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, there has been no sign of the nerves that scuttled the skater’s medal hopes four years ago. Skating a romantic, yearning routine to “La Boheme” by the late French-Armenian singer Charles Aznavour, Chen took control from the start with a strong quadruple flip jump and safe triple axel.

 

 

After easily hitting a quad lutz, triple toe loop combination after the halfway point, he let his steps – and his emotions -- flow.

“(After) the lutz-toe, it’s my last jump. I can sort of let loose technically and enjoy the skating,” Chen said. “I tried to maintain that throughout the program, have a sense of presence and enjoy it, the whole program.”

When the music stopped, the 22-year-old from Salt Lake City thrust a fist into the air and exhaled with relief.

“Looking back, I almost never do stuff like that,” he said. “There is a whole spectrum of emotions you can feel in one moment -- happiness, relief. It felt great.”

Chen won the short the way he has won every event in his illustrious senior international career: with cleanly landed, fully completed quadruple jumps, developed under the long-time tutelage of Rafael Arutunian, who coaches the skater in Irvine, California. 

The base value of Chen’s technical elements is the highest in the event, and no skater matches Chen’s versatility and consistence with the four-rotation maneuvers, which require the momentum and precision to launch into the air off a toe pick or edge, turn four times in less than a second and land backwards on a running edge.

Other skaters have better spins. A few -- like Team USA’s Jason Brown, who sits sixth after the short – compete with Chen in program component scores, including choreography, skating skills and transitions into, and out of, elements. But no other skater puts it all together as consistently as the three-time world champion.

“Scores are out of my control. I wasn’t expecting (the record),” Chen said. “I was definitely happy with the way I skated and, you know, happy to be here.”

Chen’s long-awaited showdown with Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who is bidding to become the first man in 94 years to win a third straight Olympic figure skating title, did not happen. The 27-year-old megastar aborted the take-off of his first jump, a quad salchow, losing about ten points on the element. In the mixed zone, Hanyu said a hole in the ice caused the trouble. His 95.15 points put him eighth entering the free skate.

Other Japanese skaters contend. Rising star Yuma Kagiyama scored a personal best 108.12 points with his bubbly, speedy routine to the upbeat “When You’re Smiling,” and sits second. Shoma Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist who defeated Chen at Skate America last October, also earned a new personal best with a free-flowing routine to classical selections, including Vivaldi. He sits third with 105.90 points.

“Competitors are not really in my control, nor is score nor is a lot of other variables,” Chen said. “None of these competitors are people you should take for granted or think they are out of the running. It’s not easy to get to the Olympics, especially in Japan, where the field is so deep.”

Jason Brown skates during the Men Single Skating Short Program at the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 8, 2022 in Beijing, China.

 

Performing to Nina Simone’s rendition of “Sinnerman,” Brown executed Rohene Ward’s choreography – a blend of modern dance, ballet, and jazz, in tribute to the late Alvin Ailey – with speed and daring. The 27-year-old from Chicago, Illinois did not try a quad, but his triple jumps and spins were impressive, and he earned a personal best 97.24 points.

 

 

“There is no maximizing the technical (score), the way there is a cap on the artistic side,” said Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion and a team bronze medalist in Sochi.  “That’s not going to stop me from pushing that artistic side …. I want people to embrace that and see the value in that aspect of the sport. That is what keeps me in the sport. I want to create more art; I want to create more moments with the audience.”

The third member of Team USA, Vincent Zhou, withdrew after producing a positive Covid test. Earlier, he competed in the team event, winning a silver medal as part of Team USA.

“He’s one of the hardest workers I know,” Chen said of his lifelong rival, who defeated him to win Skate America last October. “We were on the podium together at (2019) worlds, which was an amazing moment …. He has been a trooper; he’s been an amazing sport. He has been supporting all of us. I hope the best for his health and whatever future goals he has, I’m sure he’s going to kill it.”

The men’s event concludes with the free skate on Thursday.

Lynn Rutherford

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to TeamUSA.org on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.

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