Nathan Chen resumed his redemption mission on Tuesday with a brilliant, world-record-setting performance during the men’s short programme in Beijing, four years after what he dubbed a “disastrous” Olympic debut. He now holds a clear lead after the first day of competition.
Chen is a favourite for gold in this year’s Olympic Games, just as he was in 2018, but there is no evidence of anxiety or pressure this time. The 22-year-old delivered an almost faultless performance that included two quadruple leaps and a triple axel, earning her the best short programme score in figure skating history of 113.97.
Even the generally stoic Chen couldn’t disguise his emotions as he performed a passionate fist pump at the finish of his routine.
“I was ecstatic,” Chen remarked in an interview with NBC. “Last Olympics, both short programmes did not go as planned, so finally getting the chance to skate the programmes as planned feels fantastic. It means a lot to me.”
Chen made it apparent that he was no longer tormented by what occurred in Pyeongchang, when he fell in the short programme of both events, only days after coming first in the men’s short programme during the team event, propelling the Americans to a silver medal.
Since then, he’s won three world championships, and the free skate – and two Japanese skaters in Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno – are the only things standing in his way of a coveted Olympic gold medal.
The 18-year-old Kagiyama finished second in the short programme with a 108.12 mark, while Uno, who won silver in 2018, is presently third.
Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning two-time gold medalist from Japan who held the previous short programme world record, was expected to be Chen’s toughest rival for the top spot on the podium, but he popped his opening quadruple salchow, resulting in zero points for the element, and he is in eighth position after the initial day of competition. His 95.15 was his lowest short-program score since 2019. Nonetheless, Hanyu is anticipated to try a quadruple axel in his free skate, which has never been done successfully before, making him an outsider possibility for a medal.
Hanyu seemed heartbroken towards the end of his performance. He subsequently said that his skate became entangled in a hole on the ice, preventing him from taking off for the leap. But he remained upbeat about his prospects.
After Vincent Zhou had to withdraw because a positive COVID-19 case, Jason Brown was the only other American participating on Tuesday. Brown has a personal best of 97.24 and is currently ranked sixth. The 27-year-old is taking part in his second Olympic Games, but his first since 2014. In 2018, he was an alternative, and he is still a popular favourite.
“I couldn’t have asked for anything better,” Brown remarked, obviously moved during an interview on the show. “I gave it everything I had. It took eight years to come back to this point, and being able to put on a performance like that feels fantastic.”
The top 24 skaters from Tuesday progressed to Thursday’s free skate at Capital Indoor Stadium. Donovan Carrillo, a Mexican figure skater, is among those competing in a first for his country.
Chen achieved the highest free skate score in the men’s competition in 2018, but was unable to make up the gap after the short programme, finishing fifth. He’s hoping for a better outcome this time, and he’s positioned himself in the greatest possible position for gold.