The “quad king” reigns.
Eighteen-year-old Nathan Chen rebounded on Saturday from back-to-back disappointments in his first two Olympic skates to land six quadruple jumps in a single routine something that no one here has ever done before.
Almost all of them he spun off fast and easy as a top, showing the same skill that has twice made him the U.S. figure skating champion. It was a fitting if surprising finale to his last competitive appearance at the 2018 Winter Games.
After Chen finished his free skate (which aired Friday night stateside), the crowd in South Korea’s Gangneung Ice Arena roared to their feet for a standing ovation as he appeared visibly pleased, even relieved, in the middle of the rink
Gold medalist Tara Lipinski, providing commentary for NBC, declared, “He’s superhuman.”
Deviating from his planned routine (and, he said, without consulting his coach first), Chen decided to add the sixth quad not long before he took the ice.
“I literally had nothing to lose,” he told reporters afterward. “I had already made a bunch of mistakes. If I make a couple of mistakes in long, so be it. I just decided to go for it.”
“Definitely, there was a lot about redemption,” he said. “Honestly, I just wanted to leave here satisfied with what I have done, and I definitely am.”
Chen landed cleanly on five out of the six quadruple jumps and wobbled the landing on another, putting a hand to the ice, but he still fit in all four rotations before touching the ground.
Such a quad-heavy performance earned him a score of 215.08, which combined with his middling short program score of 82.27, gave Chen a total of 297.35 in the men’s event strong enough for a while for the No. 1 spot, though he was eventually pushed down to fifth.
In the end Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu took the top spot, making him the first repeat men’s gold medalist in more than 60 years. Following him were Shoma Uno, also of Japan, Spain’s Javier Fernandez and China’s Boyang Jin.
Judged by the free skate alone, however, Chen ranked first. He missed the podium only because of such weak results in the short program on Friday. His longer second program catapulted him from 17th place after the short to fifth, and for a time he had spectators wondering if he would eek out a spot on the podium after all.
To a throng of reporters on Saturday afternoon Chen explained how, in the hours before the free skate, he considered and ultimately decided to attempt six quads: “It was sort of an anger thing. I was just like, ‘Aw screw it, I’m going to try it.’ ” He thought about it before falling asleep after his short program and then committed himself the next morning.
With hindsight, he conceded that his earlier performances at the Games had been shaken by the pressure of the global spotlight.
But once he fell so far it was as though he could forget about trying to reach so high.
“I think, honestly, putting down a rough short program and being so low in the placement just took the pressure away from me,” he said.
“I no longer felt like I was striving for that first-place spot,” he continued. “It mostly was just me being out on the ice and enjoying myself, playing to the crowd and really soaking in the Olympic experience.”
Gone were his nerves, he said.
“After putting down such a disastrous short program and being so, so low in the ranking — lower than I am usually ever — allowed me to completely forget about results,” he said, “and I was able to completely enjoy myself out on the ice and getting rid of expectations helped a lot.”
Chen’s teammate Adam Rippon, with whom he shares a coach, spoke warmly of Chen’s comeback after his own free skate.
“I skate with Nathan every day and he has had such a rough effing week,” Rippon, 28, told the press. “And for him to kind of put that all behind him and skate so well today, I saw him before I had my six-minute warmup and he was in street clothes and I gave him a huge hug and I said, ‘I’m so proud of you.’ The weight of the world was on him.”
After Chen’s skate, the kudos poured in online from skating royalty.
Chen is now the first skater to complete six quads (five clean) in a single program, the first to do so in an Olympic event and the first — and only — skater to be able to land five of the six kinds of quad jumps, in which skaters must spin a full four times in the air.
Only one other competitor even planned something similar in Korea: fellow American skater Vincent Zhou, 17, who attempted five quads in his own Olympic free skate on Saturday, landed three and finished sixth.
After he competed Saturday, Chen was asked about a return to the Winter Games in 2022. As a child, he memorably resolved to make the Olympics in 2018 and did so. What next?
“I still haven’t been able to stitch up the dream that I have had,” he said. “Although I am here, I want to be on the top of the podium someday.”
As bronze medalist and retired skater Tim Goebel told Wired last week of Chen: “He has defined the current limit of the sport.”
“For the time being,” Goebel said, “he’s set the standard.”