Gold in Beijing: Nathan Chen has climbed his Mount Olympus

Nathan Chen’s expression at the start of his “Rocket Man” free skate at the Olympics? I’ve got this.

Embed from Getty Images

by Florentina Tone

He looks relaxed, he looks confident – and he has all reasons to be. He built himself a layer of confidence, of proficiency throughout the years that passed since the traumatic experience of PyeongChang Olympics. He’s in a different league now, he has been for the last four years – he wanted to make sure PyeongChang won’t happen again.

And this layer of confidence is built from solid bricks, made of terrific quadruple jumps.

He made them to perfection, he polished and refined them, he continuously played with the layouts, put one here, put one there, and then changed them again – in order to be ready, when the time comes, for all possibilities.

To be as bold as he can on the Olympic ice, to skate at full potential and having utter trust in everything he can show.

He practiced everything – until everything he practiced became a second skin.

Performing was already an ace up Nathan’s sleeve – and, with the trust he had in his jump-arsenal, you knew that, one day, on the Olympic stage, he would be undefeatable. On the World stage he has been already: Nathan Chen is a three-time World Champion, starting with the post-Olympic Worlds in Milan, in 2018.

All of those victories in the last Olympic cycle led to this very moment: a serene Nathan Chen, a smidge of confident smile on his face, at the start of his free skate in Capitol Indoor Stadium in Beijing, on February 10th.

A MUCH NEEDED PREVIEW IN THE TEAM EVENT

Surely, Nathan’s Olympic campaign started sooner: with a short program on February 4, in the Team Event in Beijing, almost a week ago now, when the 22-year old won the men’s SP and the maximum of 10 points on the table, building an additional layer of trust for himself.

Not to mention, extinguishing demons from previous short program at PyeongChang Olympics, a nightmare both in the Team and individual event.

This time, it was a dream short program for the Team, and Nathan got an immediate feedback on his planned SP layout, only to be continued with an even greatest performance when the time came to skate for himself, in the men’s short program, on February 8.

In the meantime, he’s been there, in between practice rink and the main rink in Beijing, feeling almost at home: answering to journalists after the practice sessions, after events, feet on the floor, skates aside – as one would do in his living room – and even joked about being at the Games for so long that he might even do some laundry.

THE EVER-PRESENT THREAT

He had his share of scare, though: the COVID-19-threat has always been there, hanging at the doors, threatening to poison the air – and crush Nathan’s dream of the Olympic gold.

COVID-19 might have been the sole menace to this amazing champion – the real, actual menace – and Nathan kept wearing his rubber-banded mask everywhere he went, double masking even, hoping he wouldn’t catch it after all.

A palpable round of scare followed when the virus hit someone nearby: teammate Vincent Zhou, forced to step aside, quarantine and watch the Olympic men’s event from his room.

That was, most likely, the moment when Nathan Chen felt the threat the most – and he was even quoted saying, while rapidly leaving the media zone, “I’ve gotta get out of here”.

I’ve gotta get out of here, to preserve my Olympic dream.

Which he did, he absolutely did: he pushed through, he dodged every possible bullet, he made sure he wouldn’t have other opponents than himself on the Olympic ice, technically, performance-wise – and he is now ready to start his “Rocket Man” free skate on the Olympic ice.

I’ve got this.

He’s got this.

HIS MOMENT

Embed from Getty Images

And he skates this program with that layer of confidence around him, as if a mantle surrounded him the whole time, and he goes all in for the bold layout he had prepared for this exact moment, five quads included.

No other opponents – apart from himself.

But this is not a burden, apparently, the burden of his own expectations. No, you almost have the feeling he plays there on the ice, with the jumps, with his emotions, our emotions. What does he do? He offers a performance. And not a fear-defined one, not at all a nervy one – but an Olympic moment, that will stay as one of the defining moments of these Games.

The layout is indeed courageous, with quad Flip x 2, quad Salchow, quad Lutz, quad Toe – and he flies through it, he smiles through the glitches (hanging on the Salchow, singling a planned triple Flip) – and he takes us all in with his dancing step sequence, thrusting himself in the air, in the space even, like the “Rocket Man” that he is.

At the end, we’re left smiling, applauding, in awe with the journey he’s been through, with the competitor he is.

He made it.

Nathan Chen is, deservedly, the 2022 Olympic champion.

JUST THE BEGINNING FOR YUMA KAGIYAMA

As for the 18-year old Yuma Kagiyama, what more can we say apart from what we already said and wrote in the last days, in the last months since his terrific win at 2021 Grand Premio d’Italia, in Turin?

He left it all out there, on the ice of Capital Indoor Stadium, while skating to the ascending music from “The Gladiator”. There were some shaky moments in his program, just a few – but he didn’t let the program slip through his fingers, he kept it in his power. And skated BIG at the Olympics.

Embed from Getty Images

No doubt: Yuma is a star – and he has made his entrance into the skating world with a bang: a silver Olympic medal. And, before that, another medal with Team Japan, bronze at the moment we write this (the medal ceremony for the Team Event hasn’t yet happened).

A double-Olympic medalist in Beijing.

And, surely, for Yuma Kagiyama this is just the beginning of a marvelous journey.

Fists in the air at the end of his free skate in Beijing, Yuma has all reasons to be happy.

BRONZE-GILDED SHOMA UNO, IN HIS SECOND OLYMPICS

Hand on his heart, Shoma Uno starts his journey to win a second Olympic medal in Beijing, after the bronze with Team Japan.

And did he even breathe during those quad jumps? Because we sure didn’t.

A bold, very bold content for his Olympic free skate, five quads attempted – one that he tried to keep up with, while also aiming high, performance-wise.

Embed from Getty Images

In the end, it proved enough: Shoma Uno is the bronze medalist of 2022 Olympics.

The double-bronze medalist.

And need we remind you that Shoma Uno really turned everything around, after that terrible Grenoble Kiss and Cry, at 2019 Internationaux de France? His resilience to push through, his love for the sport won the battle with uncertainties – and now you have him win over himself, while continuing to amaze.

We love happy endings, we do.

YUZURU HANYU: FEAT ON THE EARTH, EYES TOWARDS HEAVEN

Embed from Getty Images

And if we were to describe Yuzuru Hanyu’s presence in his third Olympics, after winning the previous two, if we were to describe his free skate titled “Heaven and Earth”, we’d use the following caption:

Yuzuru Hanyu, pushing the boundaries of the sport, going for the quad Axel at the Olympics – he’ll never run away from a dream. And it’s been an absolute dream to follow him all these years.

Could have he played it safe at these Olympics – and by safe, we mean going for the gorgeous, already established quads in his arsenal?

He could have.

But he was on a mission here – going for that quad Axel – and he stayed true to his purpose, to the very meaning of his skating journey and dreams.

And so he went for it, thrusting himself in the air, with a confidence defying belief. Human belief, anyway.

That’s how Yuzuru Hanyu’s entire skating career has been: always striving for the sky. His numerous fans have said it already: he’s half human, half from another planet. And this incredible mix has been advancing figure skating for years.

And one of the reasons he is who he is. A skater for the history books.

Embed from Getty Images

[Feature by Florentina Tone/Photos embedded from Getty Images/Homepage photo: Nathan Chen at the end of his free skate in Beijing © screenshot Eurosport]