GANGNEUNG, South Korea—Recent Grand Prix champion and Olympic favorite Nathan Chen shocked the skating world earlier this week with a pair of disappointing short programs. A wipeout in his Olympic debut during the team event brought the U.S. down to bronze and a disastrous first half of the men’s individual competition left him in 17th place heading into the free skate, lowest among the three American men.
He shocked the skating world again when that long program was not just up to par with what he’s proven capable of—it was literally historic. It’s his ever-expanding repertoire of quads that makes Chen so successful and in his final skate in Pyeongchang he set a new personal, Olympic, and professional skating record with six quads in his program (he stumbled a little after one of them but was given credit for all four rotations).
Talking to media afterwards, Chen used the phrase “nothing to lose” repeatedly to explain his gutsy performance.
As much as I tried to deny it, I think I did feel the pressure a lot before the short program, especially thinking about medals and placement and all that—things that are completely out of my control. And that just tightened me up, made me really cautious out on the ice, and that’s just not the right way to skate. And then being in such a low placement going into the long, I allowed myself to just completely forget about expectations and just allowed myself to be myself.
Chen had previously told reporters that following the messy short program, he would regroup with advice from his coaches and team.
“Honestly, I didn’t do any of that,” he said today. “I just went straight back to my bed and laid there. Just trying to figure out what happened.” He said that deciding to add the sixth quad was “sort of an anger thing” after failing on such a public stage so far in South Korea. He didn’t even tell his coach, Rafael Arutyunyan, what he was planning. “I was just like, ah screw it, I’m gonna try it.”
It paid off—as much as it could. Chen ended up just off the podium in fifth place overall. But his score of 215.08 was not only the best of the day—it was a personal best in Chen’s career and the highest free skate score ever put up in the Olympics. Even if it’s not how Chen would have chosen for his first Olympics to play out, having “nothing to lose” heading into today allowed him to prove—to himself as well as others—just how much he’s capable of. And that gives us all something to look forward to.