Even before the last beat of Nathan Chen’s short program music, he knew he had done it.
After landing two quadruple jumps — including one in a quadruple and triple jump combination — and dancing on the ice in his simple black tuxedo to Charles Aznavour’s “La Bohème,” Chen finished first in the men’s short program at the Beijing Olympics on Tuesday. . Greatly.
His score of 113.97 set a world record and also set him up perfectly for a prize shot that eluded him.
When he finished his program, Chen, the 22-year-old American star, threw several punches in the air during a celebration and had to catch himself.
“I hardly ever do anything like that,” he said afterwards. “I was like, ‘Why did I do that?'”
From the outside, it was obvious.
At the 2018 Games, Chen twice skated terrible short programs – once in the team event, the other in the men’s singles event. He finished in 17th place in the men’s event before the free skate.
He decided he had nothing to lose in the free skate and landed six quadruple jumps, instead of the five he had expected. This bold and daring performance propelled him to fifth place, just after the medals. Since that disappointment, he has owned the sport as a three-time world champion.
So after Chen showed off his skating skills on Tuesday — well, at an Olympics with barely a few mistakes — he said it was a relief. And, in another unusual revelation of his feelings, he said his performance made him happy.
But he won’t be reveling in his achievement for long, as there is still work to be done.
The gold medal will be decided on Thursday after the free skate (Wednesday night in the US), and Chen’s main competition will be two Japanese skaters: Yuma Kagiyama, an 18-year-old former TV and movie star who knows how to perform with talent, and Shoma Uno, 24, one of only two skaters to beat Chen since early 2018. Kagiyama finished second in the short program, 5.85 points behind Chen, and Olympic silver medalist Uno in 2018, finished third, 8.07 points back.
Competing in his first Olympics, Kagiyama had the mostly Chinese crowd cheering for his entertaining performance to Michael Bublé’s “When You’re Smiling” as he skated a high-powered, high-energy program. Uno, who skated to classical music, was equally stunning. Even when he put his hand on the second jump of his quadruple, triple combination, it didn’t hurt too much.
Afterwards, Uno issued a warning to its competitors: “I will add more complicated and difficult jumps in my free skate.”
Defending two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu, one of Chen’s main rivals and a sports star, was conspicuously absent from these top contenders. Hanyu, in a shimmering outfit that surely emptied the Swarovski factory of its crystals, finished a distant eighth on Tuesday, 18.82 points behind Chen. A hole in the ice was to blame, he said.
Hanyu opened his program by bailing out a quadruple salchow and received no points for it. The crowd gasped.
“It was an accident, but it’s okay,” he said, explaining that there was a divot in the ice from what was possibly another skater’s toe pick. “I still have a chance. I have a lot of time with the music and a lot of jumping into it, so I can be at my best.
Hanyu bounced back quickly to land a combination quad, triple jump and triple axel during the kind of fine art performance he is known for, but the missed quad cost him dearly. He is so far behind Chen and the other leaders that it will be difficult for him to win a medal.
Jason Brown, the only other American in the men’s event after Vincent Zhou tested positive for coronavirus on Monday and pulled out of the Games, also doesn’t have much of a chance of winning a medal, but he won’t. don’t complain. Close calls with people infected with the virus, including a coach last month and now Zhou, have made him appreciate every moment here. This is his second Olympic Games after finishing ninth at the 2014 Games in Sochi, Russia.
Brown, 27, was the last to skate his short program, floating on and over the ice in a passionate, effortless performance to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” that demanded fans’ attention. He’s one of the few top male skaters who doesn’t have a quadruple jump in his repertoire, but he made up for that with his exquisite skating skills and musical interpretation to finish sixth on Tuesday.
“We are so often absorbed in technique, technique,” he said. “It’s not going to prevent me from pushing the artistic side. I want to create more art.
While waiting to skate, he said, he heard cheers erupt after Chen’s performance and knew his teammate had passed.
Now Chen just has to start all over again this Thursday. He doesn’t expect it to be easy.
“Not everything that happens in the short program is indicative of what will happen in the free skate,” he said, perhaps recalling that the real feeling of relief – the one he expects since 2018 – is still a few days away, when he will walk away with the gold medal, finally. Or not.
Daniel Victor contributed report.