Column: Nathan Chen soars in short program at Winter Olympics

U.S. skater Nathan Chen performs
U.S. skater Nathan Chen performs during the men figure skating single skating short program at Capital Indoor stadium at the Beijing 2022 Olympic games.
(Gary Ambrose/For the Times)
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A shocking mistake by Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan cracked the door open for the end of his reign as two-time men’s Olympic figure skating champion. Nathan Chen barged through that door, blowing past Hanyu on Tuesday with a brilliant, world-record performance that put him in the lead after the short program, the first of two segments in the competition.

Hanyu touched off an audible gasp throughout Capital Indoor Stadium when he reduced his first planned jump, a quadruple salchow, to a single jump. His score of 95.15 left points on the table and gave hope to the challengers who for years had been stymied by his blend of technical wizardry and elegance. Chen, a three-time world champion and six-time U.S. champion, landed two quadruple jumps in his “La Boheme” program to earn 113.97 points, breaking Hanyu’s record short program score by more than two points. Dynamic Yuma Kagiyama of Japan was second (108.12), ahead of Japan’s Shoma Uno (105.90). Hanyu was eighth and faces a tough climb to medal contention in the free skate on Thursday.

“Scores are out of my control and I really wasn’t expecting that,” said Chen, who felt uneasy during the six-minute warmup but used his experience on the world stage to calm himself. “I’m definitely just very happy with the way I skated and happy to be here.”


Dynamic Yuma Kagiyama of Japan was second (108.12), ahead of Japan’s Shoma Uno (105.90). Jason Brown of the U.S., the rare elite competitor who doesn’t have a consistent quadruple jump in his arsenal, stood sixth with 97.24 points.

Recapping the news, results and highlights from The Times’ team of reporters who covered the 2022 Beijing Olympic Games.

Feb. 20, 2022

“For me, there’s so much to our sport,” Brown said, adding that spectators too often value the technical aspects over his strength, which is artistry. “That’s not going to stop me from pushing that artistic side,” he said. “I want to create art.”

Hanyu, who said he was “under some hole” on the ice when he took off for that ill-fated jump, was eighth and faces a tough climb to medal contention in the free skate on Thursday.

“I have one more chance. I have lots of time with the music and many jumps in there, so I can be my best,” he said.

Chen, who stumbled to a 17th-place ranking in the short program at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, pumped his fist in exultation at the end. “I don’t do that,” he said later, smiling. “Just indicative of how I felt at that moment.”

Nathan Chen covers his face with his hands after hearing his results from the short program Tuesday in Beijing.
Nathan Chen reacts to his results after the short program Tuesday in Beijing.
(Gary Ambrose / For the Times)

He said before these Games that he had dreaded skating in Pyeongchang but was approaching the Beijing Games with joyful anticipation, and his new attitude lifted him to new heights.

The pyrotechnics of the quadruple jumpers symbolized figure skating’s enduring appeal. So did the spirited performance of Donovan Carrillo, who trains in an undersized rink in Leon, Mexico. His rendition of “Black Magic Woman” earned him a season-best 79.69 points, 19th place and a spot in the free skate on Thursday.

“Many people told me during the beginning of my career that this was a crazy dream,” he said. “I always tried to push harder and harder, competition through competition, to try to be the best version of myself. I want people in Latin America and in my country to think about it, to have their big goals and go for it.”

Sadly, Vincent Zhou couldn’t showcase his skills Tuesday because he received a positive test for the coronavirus and withdrew from the competition.

Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu competes during the men's short program figure skating competition.
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu competes during the men’s short program figure skating competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics on Tuesday in Beijing.
(Gary Ambrose / For the Times)

Zhou, a native of San Jose, tested positive in a routine screening Sunday, after he had skated his long program in the team event. Subsequent testing confirmed the positive result. He was unable to join his teammates Monday to celebrate winning the team silver medal, the best showing for the U.S. in the event.


Zhou, 21, finished third at the U.S. championships last month. Last October, he ended Chen’s post-Pyeongchang Olympics winning streak by defeating Chen at the Skate America competition. Zhou finished sixth at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, one place behind Chen.

Zhou announced his withdrawal via a video on his Instagram account, pausing several times to regain his composure.

“It seems pretty unreal that of all the people it would happen to myself. And that’s not just because I am still processing this turn of events but also because I have been doing everything in my power to stay free of COVID since the start of the pandemic,” he said.

Chinese star Eileen Gu, 18, won gold in the inaugural women’s freestyle skiing competition before a home crowd Tuesday at the Winter Olympics.

Feb. 7, 2022

“I’ve taken all the precautions I can. I’ve isolated myself so much that the loneliness I felt the last month or two has been crushing at times. The enormity of the situation, just the pain of it all is pretty insane.”

Chen said he felt bad for Zhou. “He’s one of the hardest workers I know,” Chen said. “My heart goes out to him. I hope the best for his health. Whatever his future goals are, I’m sure he’ll kill it.”

Chen’s golden goal is at hand, the moment ready to be seized on Thursday.