As quickly as they began, the Olympics are drawing to a close. This might be the last glimpse fans get of some of these athletes for another four years. So it's no surprise that the eyes of the nation are on Nathan Chen at the 2018 Olympic closing ceremony. Even with so many athletes with such a wide range of impressive achievements present, Chen's absence stands out. The Salt Lake City native ran the gamut of emotions, from the lows of a short program riddled with errors, to the highs of setting an Olympic record for his free skate for the most quadruple jumps included in one program.
It's quite the rollercoaster to endure in just two weeks of competition, and Chen's last competition was Feb. 16, more than a week before Sunday's closing ceremony. So it's no surprise that the young skater is taking some time out of the spotlight, though not necessarily by choice. According to USA Today, Chen went home from South Korea early after becoming sick with the flu, for fear of making his fellow athletes ill as well.
The Olympian came into the games in PyeongChang with high expectations and a great deal of pressure on his young shoulders. Before taking the ice for his Olympic debut, Chen had been the only undefeated skater in his season, as reported by NBC. So hopes were high, as was the interest in endorsement deals. The 18-year-old had signed contracts with companies like United Airlines, Bridgestone, with a net worth that seemed likely to be in the low millions.
It meant that every eye was trained on him and every hope was pinned on him going into his first skate — the Men's Short Program Team Event. The Feb. 9 event was early in the schedule, on the first day of competition, and it was expected to set the tone for the United States' dominance on the ice. So hearts fell and mouths dropped open as Chen failed to meet the impossibly high expectations.
He botched landings, missed several of the record-setting five quadruple jumps that he'd planned for his program, and even fell on a triple axel. It was a devastating first showing, and while Team USA did make the podium, it was in third place.
Many hoped that it was just first-day nerves, that Chen would be able to fight his way back to dominance in the individual events. But the bronze was destined to be the only medal that the young skater would claim in South Korea. In his second skate a week later, the Individual Short Program on Feb. 15, the teen faltered again. Skating to "Nemesis," Chen fell on his first attempted quad, a quadruple lutz, ultimately turning in a performance that dropped him to a previously-unthinkable 17th place.
But once out of medal contention, the immense pressure on the Olympian seemed to lift. In his third and final Olympic appearance for the Men's Free Skate on Feb. 16, Chen executed a dazzling long program. Set to music from the film Mao's Last Dancer, the figure skater finally found some comfort on the ice, landing a history-making six quadruple jumps in a single program. Along with a place in history, the staggering feat earned him a standing ovation, and a first-place finish in the free skate, although it wasn't enough to get him onto the podium when combined with his short program score.
But TIME reports that the score of 215.08 that Chen was awarded for his free skate was his highest ever, not to mention an Olympic record, which bodes incredibly well for the youngster going forward. It's a perfect note to end this incredible roller coaster on, so he should celebrate that victory any way he wishes. Even if it means sitting out the Closing Ceremony, getting some well-earned rest, and getting well again.