Four years after what he called a “disastrous” Olympic debut, Nathan Chen continued his redemption mission on Tuesday with a dominant, world-record-setting performance during the men’s short program in Beijing and holds a commanding lead after the first day of competition.
Much like he was in 2018, Chen is a favorite for gold at these Olympic Games, but this time there has been no sign of nerves or pressure. The 22-year-old had a nearly flawless performance — which included two quadruple jumps and a triple axel — and recorded the top score of the day at 113.97, also the highest short program score in figure skating history.
Even the normally stoic Chen couldn’t hide his emotions at the end of his routine as he gave an impassioned fist pump.
“I was elated,” Chen said in an interview on the NBC broadcast. “Last Olympics, both short programs didn’t go the way I wanted and to finally get the opportunity to skate the programs the way that I wanted — it feels really great. It means a lot.”
Just days after finishing first in the men’s short program during the team event, helping lift the Americans to a silver medal, Chen made it clear he was no longer haunted by what had happened in Pyeongchang, where he fell in the short program of both competitions.
Since then he’s won three world championship titles, and now just the free skate — and a pair of Japanese skaters in Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno — stand in his way of a coveted Olympic gold medal.
The 18-year-old Kagiyama had a surprising second-place finish in the short program with a 108.12 score, and Uno, who took home the silver in 2018, currently sits in third.
Yuzuru Hanyu, the reigning two-time gold medalist who is also from Japan and owned the previous short program world mark, was expected to be Chen’s fiercest competitor 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 place after the first day of competition. His 95.15 score was his lowest in a short program since 2019. Still, Hanyu is expected to attempt a quadruple axel in his free skate — something that has never been successfully done before — and that could make him an outsider contender for a medal.
Winter Olympics 2022: Nathan Chen breaks short-program record, Eileen Gu wins gold and more live updates
Hanyu appeared devastated at the end of his performance. He later explained his skate got caught in a hole in the ice and he couldn’t take off for the jump. But he remained optimistic about his chances.
“I have one more chance,” Hanyu told reporters. “I have lots of time with the music and many jumps in there, so I [can] be my best.”
Jason Brown was the only other American competing on Tuesday after Vincent Zhou had to withdraw due to a positive COVID-19 case. Brown scored a personal best at 97.24 and is currently in sixth place. The 27-year-old is competing in his second Games, but first since 2014. He was an alternate in 2018 and remains a fan favorite.
“I couldn’t ask for more,” Brown said, visibly emotional during an interview on the broadcast. “I gave it my all. It was a long time coming, eight years trying to get back to this stage, and being able to put on a performance like that, it feels great.”
Tuesday’s top 24 skaters advanced to Thursday’s free skate at Capital Indoor Stadium. That includes Mexican figure skater Donovan Carrillo in a first for the country.
Chen had the highest score in the free skate portion of the men’s competition in 2018 but was unable to make up the deficit after the short program and finished in fifth place. This time he’s hoping for a different outcome, and has put himself in the best possible position for gold.
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