Nathan Chen Hopes To Fly At Winter Games With A Little Help from His Friends

by Lynn Rutherford

Nathan Chen poses for a portrait during the Team USA Beijing 2022 Olympic shoot on Sept. 12, 2021 in Irvine, Calif.


On day one of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, hours before the Opening Ceremony, Nathan Chen was already in a far better place than he was four years ago in PyeongChang.
Back then, the 18-year-old Chen was salving his wounds, trying to avoid headlines like “Chen flops in Olympic debut.” Touted as a gold-medal favorite, the quadruple jump-wielding teen had already won the first two of his six straight U.S. titles, as well as the first of three Grand Prix Finals.
But in the team short program, he faltered on all three of his jumps. Days later, he repeated the disappointment, placing 17th in the individual short and taking himself out of the running for a medal. A winning free skate could only lift him to fifth place.
Not so here. Chen burst out of the starting gate in Beijing, earning his highest short program score ever in the team event: 111.17 points, just a shade under the record of 111.82 held by his great rival, Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan. The performance proved key in helping the U.S. claim the team silver medal on Monday, following a bronze medal for Chen and the Americans in 2018.



In the mixed zone, the palpable emotion for Chen was relief, rather than joy.

“I still have a lot more ahead of me,” Chen said. “Of course, I am very, very happy. I might not be the most emotive person, but deep down, I am very happy.”

Chen’s pursuit of an individual medal starts on Tuesday, when he will be the 28th man to take the ice for the short program, performing fourth in the final six-skater warm-up group. His teammate, Jason Brown, takes the ice last.

“Just rest, get some food, do my chores, and go to bed,” Chen said when asked his plans for Monday night. 

“So far, it’s been really enjoyable. I’m probably having more fun here than last time (in PyeongChang), as a result of the four years in between, getting a little bit more experience and having my friends here," he added. 

Much has changed for Chen, now 22, since PyeongChang. He’s had two years of study at Yale University, living in a dorm and expanding his social network beyond the rarified world of figure skating. He won 14 straight events, including three world titles, before placing third at Skate America last October, behind fellow American Vincent Zhou and Japan’s Shoma Uno, the 2018 Olympic silver medalist.

There is so much water under the bridge, Chen claims to barely recall the events of PyeongChang.

“Four years ago is a long time, so I don’t honestly really remember,” he told reporters in the mixed zone, a day or two after his arrival in Beijing. “I have a pretty terrible memory, good or bad, I don’t know, so I don’t really remember the last Games.”

Not three minutes later, though, Chen reminisced about a childhood trip to visit his grandparents in Beijing, some 12 years earlier.

“My mom (Hetty Wang) was born here in Beijing, my dad (Zhidong Chen) was born in Guangxi and moved to Beijing and lived a good portion of his life in Beijing,” he said. “I was here when I was 10 years old-ish. I remember going to the Beijing Zoo, so every time we drive (to Capital Arena) from the Village, I see the zoo and (think), ‘Oh, I was here when I was 10.’”

Nathan Chen skates during a practice session ahead of the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Jan. 30, 2022 in Beijing.


With his eye on the prize, Chen clearly has no interest in reliving the past with a gaggle of reporters.
Brian Boitano, the 1988 Olympic champion, thinks that is a good thing.
“I would not get involved with interviews, Instagram, Twitter,” Boitano said. “I would just focus on the job at hand. I would unplug and focus completely on what I was doing.”
Chen seems to be embracing that advice, to the extent he can. He turned down a brief interview with NBC prior to the team short. He didn’t bring his personal cell phone with him to Beijing. Instead, he’s counting on his Team USA friends, his electric guitar and his basketball to help him decompress.
“My friends have really helped me stay grounded over the past four years,” Chen said. “Now having them here in person is really different (than in PyeongChang). Having Mariah (Bell), Jean-Luc (Baker), Kaitlin (Hawayek), Evan (Bates), Brandon (Frazier) — I’m missing a few names.”
Chen, Frazier, Bates and Baker are sharing an apartment in the Olympic Village.
“Evan Bates is a really good guitar player, I’m sure he will teach me something,” Chen said. “It’s kind of nice to have something that keeps me preoccupied.”
They may have to find another guitar. Bates, the 2022 U.S. ice dance champion with Madison Chock, who was also part of the silver-medal-winning U.S. team, didn’t bring his to Beijing. 
“Nathan is noodling away in the room. He’s a more devoted musician than I am,” Bates said.

Want to follow Team USA athletes during the Olympic Games Beijing 2022? Visit to view the competition schedule, medal table and results.
Bell and Frazier train alongside Chen at Great Park Ice in Irvine, California, where Chen and Bell are both coached by Rafael Arutunian. 
“I know even in my experience sometimes these things feel a little daunting, so when you have something that feels like home or just like every day, it helps this experience be easier,” Bell, the U.S. women’s champion, said.  “Because whatever happens, we’re not going to not be friends at the end of it. I think it’s something that just brings it all down and puts it into perspective.”
Relaxing with friends, discarding his painful past, steering as clear as possible from media — it all sounds like Chen is trying to stay present every moment he is in Beijing.
“He is super smart, he knows what he is doing,” Boitano said. “I think the most important part to being a champion is being able to stay in the moment and don’t get ahead of yourself, don’t get behind yourself. That includes on the ice, that includes other things in your life. Just concentrate on what’s in front of you.”
During that session with reporters in the mixed zone, Chen finally did own up to one regret from PyeongChang.
“I was a kid, not really knowing exactly what the Olympics was and just didn’t really have fun with it,” he said. “I look back on that and don’t really have the fondest memories. Regardless of how I skate (in Beijing), I want to look back and say, ‘That was a really cool experience.’”

Nathan Chen skates in the men's single skating short program team event during the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 on Feb. 4, 2022 in Beijing.


Hanyu, at 27 years old, seeks his third consecutive Olympic gold in Beijing. If he succeeds, he will be the first man to achieve this feat since Sweden’s Gillis Grafström (1920, 1924, 1928). 

So why does Chen have the edge? Simply put, the base value of his highest-scoring elements — jumps — is more than Hanyu’s. In the short program, such as the one executed by Chen in the team event, the base value of his jumps outscores Hanyu’s typical content by more than four points.

The free skate is more of the same: Hanyu, whose most consistent quads are toe loop and salchow, does not have the higher-valued quad flip or lutz to match Chen’s firepower. It is likely, based on prior performances, Chen will attempt five quads in his free skate, perhaps two flips and a lutz. At the Japanese championships in December, Hanyu hit three quads, including salchow and two toe loops.

As usual, Chen is mum on his planned jump layout.

“You know me, I like to make game day decisions,” he said.

Hanyu’s army of fans argue that the quality (Grade of Execution) of their skater’s elements, as well as his program components — including transitions into and out of elements; choreography; and performance — are appreciably stronger than Chen’s, but judges don’t always see it that way. Even if they did, it would be difficult if not impossible for Hanyu to overcome Chen based on GOE and Program Component Scores.

Of course, this analysis is all on paper, and ice is more slippery than paper. Chen has fallen several times this season, including once at Skate America, where he also popped two intended quads into doubles, and twice at the U.S. championships last month. Mistakes will open the door not only to Hanyu, but also to Uno and Yuma Kagiyama, the reigning world silver medalist, also from Japan. Both Japanese skaters were impressive in the team event, with Uno performing a personal best short program and Kagiyama, a personal best short. Japan finished with the team bronze medal.

There is a wildcard: Hanyu’s pursuit of a quadruple axel, which has a base value of 12.50 points, more than any other jump. It has never been landed in competition, and when Hanyu tried it at the Japanese championships, he landed short of the required four-and-a-half rotations.

Nevertheless, he vows to try again in Beijing.

“At the Olympics, I am of course definitely planning to go for the win, including the quad axel,” Reuters quotes Hanyu as saying in a 38-second video posted on the Japan Skating Federation’s Twitter page.

Chen welcomes the challenge.

“I’m honored to be alive at the same time as (Hanyu),” he said. “It’s pretty crazy what he’s doing. I’m looking forward to seeing a completed (quad axel). It’s been a really great adventure and journey for me, to have someone like him to share the ice with. It certainly has been a great inspiration to me.”

Lynn Rutherford is a sportswriter based out of New York. She is a freelance contributor to on behalf of Red Line Editorial, Inc.