Team USA fans were crushed when they watched figure skater Nathan Chen make his debut at the Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. The 18-year-old from Salt Lake City entered the Olympics as one of the most hyped athletes for Team USA and the country's biggest shot at bringing home a gold medal in figure skating. Chen's first appearance in competition was a rocky start, though. During the few minutes of his short program in the figure skating team event, Chen fell and made other crucial mistakes.
Chen did accomplish the first-ever quad flip in the Olympics, but had a rocky landing. He botched the ending to his first quad and missed a quad toe by getting in only two rotations instead of four. Chen also crashed on a triple axel. It can be difficult for the casual figure skating viewer to discern the different jumps in figure skating and which jumps are high-scoring ones. Still, even audiences who only watch figure skating every fours years during the Winter Olympics could tell: Chen's performance was less than ideal.
But Chen's podium dreams aren't over yet. While his poor showing hurt USA's chances at a gold medal in the figure skating team competition, there's still the individual men's competition to come.
The individual figure skating events are considered "the main show" for both spectators and athletes, with some skaters openly admitting that the team figure skating event is not their priority. If the team event is considered the "warm-up," then most skaters Friday morning in PyeongChang should be happy to get a second go. In addition to Chen, six other skaters fell during what NBC commentator Tara Lipinski called "a messy short program."
"It wasn’t a nerves thing, I just wasn’t in the right place mentally going in,” Chen told the press after he skated. “Not in terms of nerves, I just wasn’t thinking about the right things technically. I was kind of ahead of myself in terms of how to land the jump, how to get out. I wasn’t thinking about how to step in to the jump, which kind of threw me off.”
Chen added that "no one wants to skate like that on Olympic ice," but his next step was to move on and learn from this experience.
With the number of falls and mistakes in the men's showing, speculators are questioning whether the quality of the ice affected the Olympic skaters. Others speculated the early wakeup call could have affected their performance. Men's figure skating had a 10 a.m. local start time, an unusually early time slot, so that the figure skating event could air during prime time in the United States. Canadian figure skater Patrick Chan, for example, had woken up at 5 a.m. for a practice at dawn.
While Chen said he was disappointed in letting down the team, he still contributed seven points to the team total with his fourth place finish. Japanese figure skater Shoma Uno's performance put Team Japan into the early lead. Along with seven points from two-time U.S. national pair champions Alexa Scimeca-Knierim and Chris Knierim, the United States currently sits in second at the team figure skating competition. On Feb. 12 (Feb. 11 in U.S. time), Adam Rippon will skate the men's long program. It will be the U.S. figure skating team's final performance for the team event before skaters head to individual competitions.
Team USA fans can watch Chen make his return to the ice on Thursday, Feb. 15 when he skates the short program. His competition includes teammates Rippon and Vincent Zhou. Then on Friday, Feb. 16, the skaters will make their final run — and possible shot at a medal — in the free skate.