Nathan Chen Makes Olympic History After Disastrous Short Program

"I just wanted to leave here satisfied with what I have done and I definitely am," Nathan Chen said, after rebounding from a rough short program to make a personal-best score in the men's free skate. Aris Messinis /AFP/Getty Images
“I just wanted to leave here satisfied with what I have done and I definitely am,” Nathan Chen said, after rebounding from a rough short program to make a personal-best score in the men’s free skate.
Aris Messinis /AFP/Getty Images

Nathan Chen rewrote the story of his Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, performing an unprecedented six quad jumps in his free skate and launching himself from 17th place and nearly winning a medal in the men’s singles competition.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu repeated as the Olympic gold medalist in this event, on the strength of two riveting performances. Hanyu’s teammate Shoma Uno won silver, and Spain’s Javier Fernandez won bronze at the Gangneung Ice Arena in South Korea.

Hanyu also made history, becoming the first male figure skater to repeat as the champion since 1952, when Dick Button accomplished the feat.

Chen finished in fifth place, after making up for his problem-plagued first skate in the men’s short program the day before. All three Americans were in the top 10: Vincent Zhou was sixth and Adam Rippon 10th.

Coming into the free skate, Chen trailed Hanyu by nearly 30 points. He finished 20 points below him, with a score of 297.35 to Hanyu’s 317.85. Only the three medalists topped 300 points in their combined scores.

For his final skate, Chen had planned five quads. Then he decided that he would try to spin around four times in the air during six jumps — and he pulled it off.

“I have been working on it for a while,” Chen said after his skate. “It’s never really fully come together. I already fell so many times, I was like, ‘I already fell so many times [earlier in Pyeongchang], I might as well go out and throw everything down and see what happens.’ ”

As Chen told NPR’s Melissa Block, “Screw it. I have nothing to lose.”

The six quads made history as an Olympic first; they also helped Chen earn a score of 215.08 — a personal best and the highest score of any skater on Saturday. Later, Zhou followed with a 192.16, using five quads to put himself just below Chen on the overall leaderboard.

The men’s final was held at midday Saturday in South Korea — and at night Friday for the continental U.S.

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SOURCE: NPR, Bill Chappell