Nathan Chen had to wait four long years for his Olympic redemption, but on Thursday in Beijing, he left nothing to chance and won the first gold medal of his already storied career.
For just over four minutes at Capital Indoor Stadium during Thursday’s free skate, which was set to a medley of music from the Elton John biopic “Rocketman,” Chen — the final skater to take the ice — dazzled with his combination of poise and precision, landing all five of his quadruple jumps and finishing his performance with an emphatic finger point toward the crowd.
Chen later said he knew in that moment he had likely secured the top spot on the podium.
“After I finished the last jump, I thought I was pretty much close [to guaranteeing gold],” Chen said in an interview on NBC. “I was keeping track of what was going on, so I kind of had an idea … Overall [I was] just so happy.”
The 22-year-old American has been one of the most dominant figure skaters on the scene for the past several years, with three world championships and six national titles, but he had been unable to deliver on the hype during the 2018 Olympic Games in Pyeongchang. Two mistake-riddled short programs, in the individual and team events, proved costly. He won a bronze medal with the U.S. team but finished a disappointing fifth place in the men’s singles competition.
But for Chen, these Olympics have been different. He had the top score in the short program during the team event, in which the Americans won a best-ever silver medal, and showed no signs of residual nerve or fear. And his performance in Tuesday’s short program during the individual event was even better. Chen earned the highest short program score in history with a 113.97.
Still, despite his lead, surging confidence and momentum, Chen knew the job wasn’t over.
“You can never really count out any of these athletes,” Chen said on Tuesday. “The competition’s not one program. Whatever happens in the short program is not indicative of what will happen in the free program.”
But with the best score yet again, he left no room for his opponents to decrease the deficit and became the first American to win figure skating gold since Evan Lysacek in 2010. Chen’s final combined score of 332.60 was more than 22 points better than the rest of the field. It was a lifelong goal achieved but even better than what he had dreamed.
“I can’t even describe it,” Chen said. “You can’t imagine what it might feel like, but it’s just amazing.”
Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno, both of Japan, took home the silver and bronze medals.
Their fellow countryman, Yuzuru Hanyu, who had won the previous two gold medals, entered the night in eighth place and was hoping to make up some points by becoming the first skater in history to successfully land the quadruple axel. He was unable to complete the jump, fell and finished the competition in fourth place.
Jason Brown, the other American competing in the event, finished in sixth.