Why figure skater Nathan Chen is America’s best shot at Olympic gold

Published January 31, 2018

COLLAGE BY MAXWELL N. BURNSTEIN.

In the lead up to the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang on February 8, 2018, we will be introducing 10 young athletes who will be stealing America’s hearts and standing on the podium.

The pressure most 18-year-olds face when applying to university seems reasonable. Not so for 18-year-old Nathan Chen, who faces the process of applying to university with the added pressures of being the country’s best chance for a medal at the Olympics. Perhaps being tossed headlong into the Olympic pressure cooker is what’s propelling the male figure skater towards a lofty podium status at his first ever games.

Chen moves at a velocity that defines his performances as a male figure skater. Programs punched up with an indescribable amount of quadruple jumps are now expected by audiences who praised Chen’s ambitious Grand Prix performance, “Mao’s Last Dancer.”

The Salt Lake City native places importance on family and staying active with friends when he’s off the ice. College applications to Harvard and UC Berkeley are keeping Chen busy between obligations to sponsors and training.

Already a champion in his own right, Chen is closing out the year undefeated. He’s taken home the Four Continents Championship and gold at Grand Prix, the second largest annual event for Chen’s category and widely considered the dress rehearsal for the Olympics.

Despite an absence of key competitors at this last event, and a misstep at World Champions, there are high-hopes for Chen’s debut performance where team USA has him down as a dead cert for gold.

Being selected to compete for Team USA…

Is honestly a dream come true! Ever since I started skating, making the Olympic team was my ultimate dream, it’s what has inspired and motivated me throughout my entire career.

My age is an advantage because… 

My youthful dexterity allows me to do quad-jumps and a lot of things that my older competitors are not capable of doing. I also started skating at a very young age and that has given me time to develop my technique and allow me to do my quads. As I’ve gotten a little older, the strength that comes with that [age] has allowed me to do even more.

What distinguishes my style of skating is…

The jumps are really what allowed me to stand out. But over the past two years I’ve been working on my artistry and trying to be a more full-packaged skater, which is something I’ve always aspired to be. I think that I’ve made a lot of improvements artistically, and also how to create meaning with my movement to connect with the audience. I feel a lot more passionate about my skating through that.

I find my inspiration from…

An artistic standpoint—I’ve watched a lot of ballet and source some inspiration from how they move, connect with each other and find meaning in their movement.

I push myself by…

There are always times when you don’t want to go to the rink or you don’t want to do all the things you’re supposed to do. Sometimes you’re exhausted or it’s been a long week, but I always remind myself that this is my Olympic dream and the passion, because I love the sport very much.

My technical ability…

Is that I have the greatest number of quads amongst these guys, which separates me from the rest. We all have our own trademarks and things that allow us to stand out more, but at the end of the day I can’t focus on that. I am going to be on the ice by myself. I am not directly competing against them.

The media attention has been…

A lot. It’s reassuring knowing that people are supporting me, and want to know more about me. It comes with being the national champion and making the Olympic team. I think that it’s telling me I’m on the right path.

My most important win…

Has been “Four Continents” [in PyeongChang] of last season, which is actually the Olympic test event for PyeongChang. Almost everyone who will be competing at the games was there. I was able to take the win and it was a big achievement in my career.

Between getting on the podium and applying to university…

The past few months have been very stressful. Since they were all due at the end of this past year, I was able to finish them…and fingers crossed I get accepted! Now I can ultimately just focus on the Games.

 

 

LEARN MORE AT TEAMUSA.ORG. THE WINTER OLYMPICS BEGIN LIVE ON FEBRUARY 8. THE PARALYMPICS START ON MARCH 9.