Trained In Irvine, Three-Time World Champion Nathan Chen Takes Lead into Olympic Free Skate
Wednesday, February 09, 2022
At the end of an Olympic epic in which Nathan Chen, who trains at the Great Park Ice in Irvine, soared like a star shooting through a sky full of brilliance, his sport, like the rest of the planet unable to do anything but look on with amazement, the 22-year-old dropped a hint that he might be human after all.
At least off the ice.
Between Tuesday morning’s world record-setting short program and Thursday’s long program, Chen admitted he had a to-do list he had to take care of.
“Chores,” he said.
“I’ve been here for a while,” he said with a smile “so I’ve got some clothes to wash. Got little things to clean around my room. Again, I’ve been here for a while.
“So again nothing crazy.”
Beyond his laundry, and a messy Olympic Village dorm room, waited a men’s free skate at the Capital Indoor Stadium Thursday morning (Wednesday night in the U.S.) that is expected to crown Chen, born inspired by Games in his hometown of Salt Lake City, trained in Orange County, as Olympic gold medalist if not the greatest male figure skater of all time.
Chen, 22, the three-time World champion, takes a daunting lead into the long program after posting a 113.97 score for a flawless performance of the most difficult short program in history.
Teenager Yuma Kagiyama, the 2021 World Championships runner-up to Chen, and his Japan teammate Shoma Uno, the 2018 Games silver medalist go into the free skate in second (108.12) and third place (105.90) with Yuzura Hanyu, the two-time defending Olympic champion, eighth (95.15).
“(Other) competitors are not really in my control nor is score nor is a lot of variables,” Chen said. “So right now my focus is on getting ready to do my best Thursday.
“None of these competitors are people you should take for granted or people you think, ‘Oh, they’re out of the running.’ Every single person is still very, very much in the running and it’s not easy to be able to make it to the Olympics, especially in Japan where the field is so deep.
“So there’s going to be quite a lot of amazing skating on Thursday.”
Chen, who is majoring in statistics and data science at Yale, had to know his statement was only partially correct. If he performs his best there will indeed be amazing skating but none of his rivals will be able to match it.
“For any athlete it will be difficult, if not impossible, to beat him,” Uno admitted.
Chen’s free skate program to Elton John’s “Rocket Man” loaded with five quad jumps and a degree of difficulty unmatched by his fellow competitors has a potential technical score of 101.24 points. By comparison, if Kagiyama skates cleanly in his program which includes four quads his maximum technical score is 94.55.
Uno, with five quads in his routine, has a potential technical mark of 98.43. Hanyu in recent weeks has raised the possibility of attempting a quad Axel, skating’s most difficult jump and one that has never been successfully landed in competition. But Chen is likely too far out of reach. Even if Hanyu nailed the quad Axel, his bid to become the first man in 94 years to win three consecutive Olympic figure skating gold medals would still be remote. His bid for a third consecutive Olympic figure skating gold medal would still be remote.
In reality, Chen’s only real competition is himself — his nerves and his world records for free skate combined score (224.92) and competition total mark (335.30).
Kagiyama admitted as much, acknowledging that catching Rocket Man is one chore that isn’t likely to be completed Thursday.
“For me, Nathan is someone to aspire to be like,” he said. “So when I’m on the same ice with him I wanted to think of him as just another athlete. But the reality is that I have so many gaps between me and Nathan.”
Photo by Matthew Stockman/Getty Images: American Nathan Chen reacts during the men’s figure skating short program at the Olympic Games on Tuesday (Monday night PT) in Beijing, China. Four years after falling short of the podium, Chen takes a significant lead into the free skate.
Category: sports, Great Park Ice, Destination Irvine, Olympics