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
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.”
“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, a Salt Lake City native, wraps up his first Olympics on a positive note after a series of surprising errors marred his first two appearances, seemingly getting worse the longer he skated.
Considered Team USA’s best hope for a figure skating gold medal before heading to South Korea, Chen fell last week during his short program in the skating team event.
In a reprisal of that routine on Thursday, Chen fell again. Afterward he told reporters he “made as many mistakes as I possibly could have.”
“It was rough again,” he said then. “I still need some time to think about it. It happens, and I guess I try to move on from here.”
It remained unclear how Chen would recover just a day after his free skate, having already claimed he was correcting from the first short program to the second and then turning in an error-prone performance.
But pull it off he did, proving the worth of the “quad king” nickname that has followed him around in headlines (and as a star of NBC’s Olympics promotion).
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Chen is now the first skater to complete five quads in a single program, the first to do six quads 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.”
The Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.