By Elaine Lies
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) – American jumping ace Nathan Chen lived up to his reputation on Saturday, redeeming himself with quadruple jumps after a pair of disastrous skates in Pyeongchang and making Olympic history into the bargain with a brilliant free skate.
Even though he ended out of the medals, Chen’s clean landing of an unprecedented six quads – the first time anybody has done so in the Olympics – helped him vault from 17th to fifth place on the weight of the free skate.
Mao Asada of Japan, who won silver in Vancouver 2010, had a similar experience in Sochi in 2014, following a terrible short skate with a stellar free program that lifted her from far down the ranks up to sixth place and left her in tears.
Chen said that his fall and the other mistakes of Friday’s short program proved strangely freeing.
“Honestly, I wasn’t nervous at all,” the 18-year-old told reporters after his performance, saying that doing so badly led to his decision to add another quad to his program.
“I sort of planned it yesterday after I had such a bad short. I might as well just go for everything right now, I have literally nothing to lose so I might as well just go for it.”
After repeatedly saying that the Olympics were just another competition for him prior to his short skate on Friday, Chen – taking part in his first Olympics – ruefully admitted that the expectations and the occasion got the best of him.
“As much as I tried to deny it I guess I really did feel the pressure a lot, from especially before the short program, thinking about medals and all that, things that were completely out of my control,” he said.
“That just tightened me up and made me really cautious out on the ice, and that’s not the right way to skate.”
Chen said earlier this week that after his poor skate in the team competition he had gone straight to the rink for 20 minutes of practice that had helped settle his head.
But Friday was different.
“There was no ice time, or I totally would have (practiced),” he said. “I went home and lay in bed and tried to relax a bit.”
In the end, he was philosophical.
“I was glad I was able to show myself and everyone else that I can bounce back from a bad performance. I’m human, I make mistakes, and unfortunately I had a really bad time,” he said.
“I’m really happy with what I did here and tomorrow is another day.”
(Additional reporting by Soyoung Kim; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty)