After a powerful quick program within the crew determine skating occasion, Group USA’s Nathan Chen is able to skate for the one particular person medal lacking from his assortment—an Olympic one.
The 22-year-old, who trains in southern California, is completely able to undertaking that feat. He’s extensively considered the GOAT (Best of All Time) of determine skating—he’s a six-time nationwide champion, three-time world champion, and holds a number of data for being the primary to land numerous quadruple jumps at main competitions. The one skater he misplaced to since 2018—fellow Group USA skater Vincent Zhou—withdrew from the Olympics after testing constructive for COVID-19.
Which units Chen up for a highly-anticipated skate-off beginning Feb. 8 at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium towards Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning back-to-back Olympic champion who’s hoping for a third-straight gold. Hanyu has had followers and the Japanese media on edge by his absence in Beijing—he solely arrived on Feb. 6, two days earlier than his occasion, and has not competed all season as a way to recuperate from a proper ankle ligament damage.
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And Hanyu arrived in Beijing making ready to make historical past by turning into the primary skater to land a quadruple axel. Ought to he succeed, Hanyu may have a bonus given the soar’s excessive base factors worth.
However Chen has his personal arsenal of quads—and perspective. It wasn’t simple a simple journey for Chen, who was additionally a medal favourite heading into Pyeongchang—however didn’t even make the rostrum. Since then, he has put in work on the ice, and off it. He enrolled at Yale College because the final Olympics. He’s armed with a brief program that showcases his reference to music. He’s practising mindfulness.
“It actually feels completely different this time,” he tells TIME. “I grew rather a lot over the previous 4 years, and I’ve been dreaming and looking out ahead to the second after I may make this crew.”
Nathan Chen’s rollercoaster Olympics debut
The final time Chen competed on the Olympics, nevertheless, he admits he in all probability wasn’t fairly prepared for what awaited him.
“After U.S. championships when the Olympic crew was introduced, and I used to be anticipating to make the crew, and I didn’t really feel the identical sense of pleasure that I ought to have,” Chen says of his mentality in 2018. “I nearly felt a way of dread, and concern, and as quickly because the Olympic crew was introduced, I assumed ‘Oh my gosh it’s what I needed however I don’t know if I’m prepared for it.’ That doubt and concern continued to creep in over the month heading to the Video games, and all of it culminated within the two quick applications that I had.”
These applications have been a shock to not simply Chen but in addition to skating and Olympic followers as nicely. Heading into the Olympics, Chen had been increase his file. He’s the primary male determine skater to land seven quadruple jumps in a single competitors, on the U.S. Nationwide Championships in 2017, and the primary to finish 5 quadruple jumps in a world competitors, in that very same yr. He was anticipated to do the identical on the Olympics.
Then he took to the ice to carry out his quick program within the crew occasion. And doubled considered one of his jumps and fell on the following one.
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“I believe plenty of it needed to do with the truth that I knew I had the chance to probably win,” he says. “I had the technical potential to theoretically get myself on the rostrum, if not win. And having the mentality that I used to be going there simply to get a medal was simply an excessive amount of for me.”
After making errors in his second quick program days later within the males’s particular person occasion, Chen was in 17th place earlier than the free program. He returned to his room within the Village and lay in mattress till his subsequent occasion. “I didn’t suppose a lot, or do a lot. Everybody knew what occurred, and the place I used to be within the competitors.” At that time, he says, he modified his mentality and determined to go for broke. Since a medal wasn’t on the road anymore, the free program was an opportunity to compete freed from any pressures or expectations. “That was the entire thought—I actually had no likelihood for a medal, and no likelihood to win. So I would as nicely use the chance the most effective I can, and attempt to skate to the most effective of my skills,” he says. “From there I spotted, ‘Hey, I used to be nonetheless on the Olympics and that’s fairly unbelievable.”
That mindset made all of the distinction. Chen gained the free skate competitors, with a wide ranging try at six quadruple jumps that earned him a private greatest rating.
A shift heading into Beijing
It’s that lesson that Chen has carried with him during the last 4 years. Chen appreciates the significance of getting time to pursue issues aside from skating, and of incorporating mindfulness and meditation methods as nicely. Enrolling in lessons at Yale has additionally helped; whereas he’s taken the previous two years off to organize for the Olympics, placing himself in a special atmosphere the place he had priorities aside from skating has helped to handle the strain and expectations that overwhelmed him in 2018. “I beloved having the time at school, and it was actually nice for me to have a brand new life I hadn’t skilled earlier than,” he says. “Having hobbies and issues to do this will not be essentially skating-related to maintain me lively and engaged additionally helps.”
Music is an enormous a part of that for him; Chen has performed the piano since he was younger, and picked up the guitar as a teen after his older brother began enjoying. He’s even contemplated skating to music he and his brother have recorded; “we have been considering it will be cool to do one thing with me enjoying the piano and my brother enjoying the guitar—possibly for a present program sooner or later,” he says.
His consolation with the music for his applications can also be an enormous a part of his confidence coming into this Olympics. After creating two new applications for this momentous yr, and competing with them final fall, Chen determined to return to the quick and free applications he skated within the 2019-2020 season, when the world championships have been canceled. The truth that he misplaced his first competitors since 2018, to teammate Vincent Zhou at Skate America in 2021, contributed to that call, as did the truth that his two earlier applications earned him his highest scores but. As a result of he related with these applications, and didn’t have the possibility to skate them at that occasion, Chen determined to tweak them a bit and convey each applications again for Beijing.
“On the finish of the day, all applications have comparable content material by way of parts,” he says. “It simply comes all the way down to how nicely you join with the music, and that’s an enormous a part of your rating. If I’m in a position to really feel that I can connect with a program, it’s rather a lot simpler, rather a lot much less pressured and extra natural and pure for me to interpret this system and skate.”
Shae-Lynn Bourne, an Olympic ice dance medalist for Canada, who now works as a choreographer, created the quick program that Chen revived. Bourne retains a operating playlist of music that she feels will attraction to the skaters she works with, and when she heard Charles Aznavour’s “La Boheme,” she thought it will be a sensible choice for Chen. It supplied a chance to showcase the emotional aspect of his skating, since he was so recognized for his technical talent and his quad jumps. “The eagerness of that tune, and the best way it’s carried out, with such soul and fact, I felt it will be one thing new for Nathan to indicate his charisma,” says Bourne. “I felt he may categorical it and thru his motion convey that spirit of the tune to life in entrance of us, so he doesn’t make us suppose that at any second a soar is coming.”
Due to the truncated 2019-2020 season, Chen felt he didn’t have closure on this system, since skaters build-up to the world championships yearly. “Given the pandemic, I wasn’t in a position to compete at Worlds, so having one other alternative to complete that second half of that season means rather a lot,” he says.
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Chen’s program is full of technical content material designed to push him to the highest of the rostrum. One change that he, Bourne and his coach Rafael Arutunian made was to shift his main soar mixture, the quadruple Lutz-triple toe, to the second half of this system so he can earn bonus factors.
Nathan Chen’s Olympic ice comeback
It seems to be paying off. Within the Beijing Olympics crew occasion, Chen carried out a technically difficult and passionate quick program. He landed a textbook quadruple flip in addition to a quadruple Lutz-triple toe loop mixture and earned him a private greatest rating of 111.71, simply shy of Hanyu’s report within the occasion of 111.82.
Extra importantly, he lastly shook off the questions surrounding his potential to carry out below strain.
Chen’s return to Olympic ice in that crew occasion quick program was additionally a press release—to himself and to the world—that he’s on observe to earn what the skating world feels he deserves, an Olympic medal. “I realized from my 2018 expertise that for myself, when it comes time to skate, that I’m 100% locked on my skating. As quickly as I’m off the ice, and never engaged in skating, I have to do issues to distract myself which for me is enjoying guitar and my different hobbies, and spending time with my household and buddies,” he says.
Adam Rippon, who educated with Chen for the 2018 Pyeongchang Video games and now coaches on the similar rink, sees that change in Chen as nicely. “I believe what actually helped him is that as an individual, he explored various things he enjoys, like going to high school, and taking lessons,” he says. “As an athlete, you may suppose that you just’re solely good at one factor, and in the event you can’t do it, you have to be rubbish and that you just shouldn’t be right here. However if you study you could be good at different issues, you might be extra empowered.”
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That can actually assist Chen as he faces Hanyu, because the reigning Olympic gold medalist hasn’t stood nonetheless both. Hanyu is hoping to land that quadruple axel; he tried the soar on the Japanese nationwide championships in December, his first competitors this season, however landed on two ft so it was downgraded to a triple Axel. If he lands it in his free program, not solely will he make historical past as the primary skater to land the soar, however he may also have an enormous factors benefit because the soar has the best base worth of 12.5 factors.
Each Chen and Hanyu are being chased by skaters who’re able to beating them if both falters. Japan’s Shoma Uno and Yuma Kagiyama is also spoilers who break the Chen-Hanyu juggernaut; Uno’s near-perfect quick program and Kagiyama’s spectacular free in the course of the crew occasion laid down the gauntlet for the favorites. Chen is taking all of it in stride, nevertheless. Quite than permitting that strain to weigh him down, he’s reminding himself to get pleasure from each second and admire the chance and experiences skating is gifting to him. “I’m excited to study new issues at this competitors, and expertise issues I haven’t earlier than,” he says.