BEIJING (Reuters) – American Nathan Chen achieved a spectacular redemption when he claimed the men’s figure skating title in dazzling fashion at the Beijing Olympics, completing a four-year journey to the exhilarating tunes of Elton John on Thursday.
The 22-year-old, who left empty-handed after a meltdown in Pyeongchang in 2018, stood by the edge of the rink to soak up the atmosphere during warm-up and then skated carefreely to “Rocket Man” to add to his world record in the short programme for a total of 332.60.
Wearing a Vera Wang-designed orange and purple top decorated with stars in space in a nod to his medley of Elton John songs, Chen displayed power, grace and precision, effortlessly landing his quadruple jumps as he triggered some rare cheering from a usually near-silent crowd.
Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama (310.05) was a distant second and fellow Japanese Shoma Uno (293.00) came third, but ‘Rocket Chen’ showed he was a class above as he landed his fourth quadruple jump.
“I never really thought that I’d be able to actually make it this far in my career. I’d always, of course, dreamed about making an Olympics and winning the Olympics, but I was like, that’s hard, I don’t know if I can make that happen,” Chen said.
“I haven’t really had time to process fully, but it’s amazing so far.”
Yuzuru Hanyu, who was hoping to win the event for a third time in a row, finished fourth on 283.21. All attention was on the Japanese great after his long-awaited, delayed arrival in Beijing, but the 27-year-old fell out of contention with a disastrous short programme.
He was also looking to become the first skater to land the quadruple Axel in competition but failed to deliver, falling again on a quadruple Salchow.
Hanyu, looking tired and at times struggling to steady his breath to contain his emotions, said he was disappointed at his failed attempt but that he had “given it his all”.
“It wasn’t fun at all,” he said of his Olympic experience, describing it as painful and difficult.
Asked if he would compete at the world championships or keep attempting the ‘4A’, he said, “I need some more time to think about it.”
Chen, coming into the Olympics having been defeated only once since his Pyeongchang setback, at last year’s Skate America, delivered a masterclass to become the first American to win the men’s title since Evan Lysacek in Vancouver in 2010.
Kagiyama, Uno and Hanyu watched in awe as Japan’s double Olympic champion knew he would have to make way for Chen, who exited the ice showing unusual signs of jubilation.
“I think that I can’t regret the performance I gave,” said Uno, praising Chen’s class and consistency.
Chen’s smile and gesture brought a welcome respite in an otherwise tense atmosphere at the Capital Indoor Stadium where the buzz was centred on day-old reports – still unconfirmed – that Russian Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old gold medal favourite in the women’s competition – had tested positive for a banned drug.
Valieva was part of the six-person Russian Olympic Committee (ROC) team that won gold on Monday. Medals from that event have yet to be awarded with the International Olympic Committee (IOC) citing unspecified legal reasons for the delay.
She turned up for practice on an adjacent rink, before Chen’s performance grabbed the attention, at least for a memorable four and a half minutes, and signalled the end of Hanyu’s domination.
(Reporting by Julien Pretot, Chang-Ran Kim and Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Additional reporting by Sakura Murakami; Editing by Michael Perry)