Twenty years after a young Nathan Chen watched the figure skating competition at his hometown Salt Lake City Olympics and decided he wanted to be like them, a virtuoso Chen became an Olympic gold medalist.
Chen, who trains at Great Park Ice in Irvine, California, on Thursday blended the power and musicality that have made him a world champion three times and took them to the next level to become the seventh American man to win a figure skating singles gold medal. Chen retained the lead he had built with his short program by performing an animated and accomplished free skate to an Elton John medley, finishing with 332.60 points and living out the dream he had kept close to his heart since 2002.
That dream had eluded him four years ago in Pyeongchang, where a mistake-filled effort consigned him to 17th after the short program and only a superhuman free skate elevated him to fifth. This time, he was surefooted and unbeatable at Capital Indoor Stadium as he ended the reign of two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.
“Everything is still a whirlwind. But I never thought I’d actually be able to make this happen, so to be able to just have this opportunity was amazing,” he said.
Why wouldn’t it happen? “It’s hard. I don’t know,” he said. “It’s always been a dream of mine of course but it’s a pretty daunting mountain.”
Afterward, Chen hugged coach Rafael Arutyunyan, whom he has followed from rink to rink for many years because he trusted that Arutyunyan could guide him toward the top of the skating world. Chen’s belief was as sure as his skating.
Teammate Jason Brown was effusive in his praise: “Oh my gosh, I’m just so proud of him. No one deserves it more. He just is like no one else.”
Hanyu, who stood eighth after the short program, put up a brave and admirable fight but finished fourth.
Hanyu kept his promise to attempt an unprecedented quadruple axel jump and nearly completed all 4½ revolutions before he fell on the landing. He also fell on his second jump, a quadruple salchow, but he landed two other quads in combinations and was otherwise his usual stirring and stellar self.
Hanyu, 27, bowed deeply toward every side of the rink and held his hand over his heart. He left the ice with a twirl and an arm extended toward the small but adoring crowd before moving to the kiss-and-cry area to hear his scores. With 188.06 points for his free skate he finished with 283.21 total points and held the lead with seven skaters to go. He was passed by Japanese countrymen Yuma Kagiyama, who finished second with 310.05 points, and Shoma Uno, who fell in his “Bolero” free skate but totaled 293.00 points to win the bronze medal.
“Coming into this, in my mind, I did not feel I was the favorite to win,” Chen said. “As soon as you hear the name ‘Yuzuru Hanyu,’ you’re like, ‘Well, this competition is going to be hard,’ as well as the two other Japanese men. Yuma’s been on an amazing hot trajectory and Shoma has been doing his thing quietly but making it hard on all the rest of the competitors. The rest of the field is super-deep as well so you couldn’t really count out anyone.”
—Helene Elliott Los Angeles Times