Column: Nathan Chen soars in short program at Winter Olympics
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.
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. He said before these Games that he had dreaded skating in Pyeonchang but was approaching the Beijing Games with joyful anticipation, and his new attitude lifted him to new heights.
Jason Brown of the U.S., a perennial fan favorite because of his stylish skating, stood sixth with 97.24 points.
The pyrotechnics of Kagiyama and Chen were reminders of figure skating’s enduring appeal.
So was the spirited performance of Donovan Carillo, who trains in an undersized rink in Leon, Mexico.
His rendition of “Black Magic Woman” earned him a season-best 79.69 points 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.
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 spoke of his emotions in a video posted 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. “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.
“But I do recognize that this absolutely does not define me as an athlete, as a person. I am more than just another positive COVID test. I am more than just another face in the crowd. While it was always my dream to medal on an Olympic stage, which I did accomplish before this happened, the overarching dream was just to skate. If I didn’t love this I wouldn’t still be doing it. I know I love this. That passion goes a long way.”
Zhou struck a poignant note when he remembered taking up the sport after studying the skaters he saw on TV and waking up at 4 a.m. to go to the skating rink and learn how to jump like they did.
“I’ve already lost count of the number of times I’ve cried today. But I’m happy to say that at least one of those times was happy tears. That was when I found out that I became an Olympic silver medalist,” he said. “And I think that wraps things up nicely on a positive note.”
For the day, not for his career. “This is not the end. This is a setup for a bigger comeback,” he said.
He deserves that much in a sport where years of working and dreaming can vanish in one cruel moment.