Nathan Chen’s near-perfect skating earns him a long-awaited Olympic gold medal.
Nathan Chen recalls driving from his home in Utah to Rafael Arutyunyan‘s training camp in Southern California with his mother. He’d just begun figure skating a few years before, borrowing his sister’s skates and sleeping in the van to pursue his Olympic ambitions.
Ten years later, Chen stood by Arutyunyan ten years later as his scores were read and his wish came true.
The 22-year-old Yale student won the gold medal at the Beijing Games on Thursday with a near-perfect free skate after a world-record-setting short programme. He became the first American figure skating champion since Evan Lysacek in 2010, capping one of the sport’s most dominating four-year streaks.
My mother and I were destitute as children. “We didn’t have a lot of money,” Chen said. “She would simply scrape together some money to try to pay Raf, and Raf clearly understood the circumstances and was able to just keep letting me in and accepting as much money as we could afford him, owing to the compassion of his heart.”
“I would constantly try to put it in his pocket,” Chen claimed of Arutyunyan’s attempts to return the money.
On Thursday, Chen was able to deliver something precious to his former mentor.
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“I’m content.” It was so emotional, “Arutyunyan said.” “He figured it out.”
Chen landed all five of his quads during his “Rocketman” routine set to the soaring film music by Elton John inside the historic Capital Indoor Stadium in China, the country from where both of his parents came. The statistics and data science student ended with an unbeatable score of 332.60 points, only three points shy of his personal best and 22 points ahead of his nearest competitor. Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno won silver and bronze, respectively.
Chen also put any residual thoughts of his heartbreaking defeat in Pyeongchang four years ago to rest, when not even a magnificent free skate could save his medal aspirations after a catastrophic short programme.
“It means everything to me,” he remarked. “I’m simply overjoyed.”
Chen’s gold medal may not be the last he brings home.
The Americans, who finished second to the Russians in the team event on Monday, were waiting for confirmation from the International Olympic Committee and the International Skating Union that the “legal issues” that were delaying the medal ceremony were related to doping allegations against their biggest star, Kamila Valieva. This might help the United States win the gold medal, which would be Chen’s second.
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“I mean, I don’t feel like I’m the best person to speak about it,” Chen said. Whatever the situation is, whatever the case is, I’m still caught up in what I was able to do today.
Last Friday, the Salt Lake City native contributed to the American team with a victorious short programme. Because he skated his free skate on Sunday, Vincent Zhou, who was forced to withdraw from the individual event owing to a positive COVID-19 test, would also win a gold medal for the United States.
Chen and his Japanese competitors stood out from the rest of the competition during their short programmes, when Chen broke the world record with a perfect performance of “La Boheme.” Chen’s coronation was made possible by just enough blunders on the rink during the free skate.
Uno under-rotated a quad salchow and quad toe loop while performing to “Bolero,” one of the most popular musical choices at the Beijing Games, and was subsequently penalised for his combo spin late in the performance, finishing with 293 points.
Then there came the 18-year-old Kagiyama, who blasted his triple toe loop and triple salchow to music from the film “Gladiator.” It was still enough to earn a fist pump in the kiss-and-cry area and a score of 310.05 points, but not enough to put any pressure on Chen, who was skating across the calm ice as Kagiyama’s score was announced.
Chen flew through his initial quad salchow in front of a socially distant audience in Beijing on Thursday afternoon, and millions at home on late-night television. He nailed four more smooth quads, with just a little hiccup on a late combo routine, and couldn’t stop grinning as he seemed to reach for the skies.
And I suppose it’ll be a long, long time before touchdown brings me ’round again,” the lyrics to “Rocketman,” which played through the ancient home of ping-pong diplomacy, seemed quite appropriate for the occasion.
Chen basked in the limelight in the centre of the rink before heading off to hear his scores, which had become a formality by that point. Chen’s longtime coach lifted his arm triumphantly when they were read.
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“He deserved it,” said sixth-place finisher Jason Brown of the United States. Over the previous four years, I’ve had the opportunity to compete alongside him in every world championship, every national championship, and the Grand Prix. There is no one who is more worthy of this honour. He put forth so much effort. He’s a freakishly gifted individual. I’m honoured to be a member of the team. “
While Chen’s star shone brightly, his old idol and Japanese opponent appeared to fade into the background.
Yuzuru Hanyu came to Beijing with the goal of being the first male figure skater to win a third consecutive Olympic gold medal since Gillis Grafstrom in 1928. However, after missing most of the previous year due to an ankle ailment, the 27-year-old struggled through his short programme on Tuesday, thereby eliminating him from medal contention.
Hanyu remained with only a go-for-broke try at the quad axel, a 4 1/2-revolution leap that had never been landed in competition. He came close to landing but couldn’t hold on, then fell again on his quad salchow before an emotional end to what may be his last Olympic performance.
Hanyu finished fourth, almost missing out on the medals, behind his two colleagues.
and, of course, in support of the newly crowned American champion.
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