Olympic Skater Nathan Chen Puts U.S. in Early Lead at Team Event — Redeeming Falls at Last Games

"I'm just here to have fun," he told reporters afterward

At the Winter Olympics four years ago, Nathan Chen fell and kept falling.

In his return to the Games on Thursday night (Eastern), skating in the team event, the 22-year-old Chen sent his body spinning and jumping across the ice without hesitation.

Jumps, landed. Spins, nailed.

It was the kind of performance that underlined his prominence as the foremost American male figure skater, the so-called "Quad King" and a three-time world champion.

And it was the exact opposite of Chen's Olympic debut in 2018, in South Korea, where his skating was marred by errors.

This time he skated spotlessly, landing both a combo of a quadruple and triple jump and the hardest possible jump of any skater in history — the quadruple lutz — on his way to a final score of 111.71, leading the pack of skaters so far.

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Pairs and ice dancers were still scheduled to compete in the team event Thursday into Friday overnight, with the top five teams advancing to the second half of the event, scheduled for Saturday (Eastern).

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Nathan Chen competing in the figure skating team event at the 2022 Winter Olympics. Elsa/Getty

With his U.S. teammates watching from the side of the rink, Chen skated to "La Bohème" by Charles Aznavour. His score put him ahead of second-place 2018 Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, of Japan, and third-place Mark Kondratiuk, competing for the Russian Olympic Committee.

Ahead of competing in China, Chen told PEOPLE he had tried to keep things in perspective — mindful of his past challenges while embracing what he loved about his sport.

"I think that looking back in 2018, all I could think about was skating and not being able to, obviously, skate well. So I want to definitely be able to embrace the Games in a different way," he said.

"It's so easy to fall into the trap of being like, 'Oh my gosh, the pressure's building. Everything's so stressful. Everything's so scary,' " he admitted then.

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Nathan Chen after winning gold at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in January 2022. Ken Murray/Icon Sportswire via Getty

Still, he said, "I think that feeling in that way isn't necessarily a bad thing all the time, but just being able to remind yourself like, yes, this is a pretty stressful time, but at the same time, there's a lot more to life. There's so much more than this individual competition, than this one shot."

Speaking with reporters after his skate in the Beijing Olympics, Chen said he was "really happy" with his performance and was looking forward to supporting the other skaters, just as they had supported him in 2018.

"I'm just here to have fun," he said.

"The amazing thing about a team event [is we] can all rely on each other," he continued.

The Winter Olympic figure skating team event continues Thursday night (Eastern) into Friday.

To learn more about all the Olympic and Paralympic hopefuls, visit TeamUSA.org. Watch the Winter Olympics, beginning Feb. 3, and the Paralympics, beginning March 4, on NBC.

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