BEJING (AP) — Utah’s Nathan Chen wasn’t going to be disallowed this time at the Olympics.
Chen completed his four-year journey to an elusive Olympic gold medal on Thursday, following his record-breaking short program at the Beijing Games with a near-perfect free skate that earned him a standing ovation from fans inside the historic Beijing Stadium. the capital.
The 22-year-old star, who grew up in Salt Lake City, landed all five of his quads during his ‘Rocketman’ program, set to the soaring film score of Elton John, to finish with 332.60 points – at just three shy of his own world record — and becomes the first American champion since Evan Lysacek took the top step of the podium in 2010 in Vancouver.
Chen’s score easily edged out his two closest pursuers, Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno, and put all lingering memories of his brutal disappointment four years ago in Pyeongchang firmly in the past.
This may not be the last gold medal Chen wins either.
The Americans, who took silver behind Russia in the team event on Monday, were awaiting confirmation from the IOC and the International Skating Union that the “legal issues” delaying the medal ceremony were related to doping information linked to their biggest star, Kamila Valieva. This could ultimately elevate the United States to the gold medal.
Chen did his part for Team USA with a winning short program, and Vincent Zhou – who was forced to withdraw from the individual event due to a positive COVID-19 test – would also win a gold medal. for his free skating.
The suave and down-to-earth Chen and his two Japanese chasers separated themselves from the rest of the field during their short programs, when Chen smashed the world record with a flawless performance at “La Bohème”. When they took to the ice for the free skate, Kagiyama and Uno made just enough mistakes to pave the way for Chen’s crowning glory.
Playing to “Bolero”, one of the most popular musical selections from the Beijing Games, Uno under-spinned a quad salchow and quad toe loop, then was stunned for his combined spin late in the program to finish with 293 points.
Then it was 18-year-old Kagiyama, who was playing to the music for the movie “Gladiator,” who pulled out his triple toe curl and triple salchow. It was still enough to score 310.05 points and earn a punch in the kissing and crying zone, but not enough to add pressure on Chen, who calmly skated on the placid ice as the score from Kagiyama was read.
With a socially distanced crowd watching Thursday afternoon in Beijing and millions watching at home on late-night television, the young Yale student soared in his first quad salchow. Chen landed four more quads effortlessly, with his only slight bobble coming on a late combination streak. He couldn’t wipe the smile from his face as the music ended.
He bathed in the spotlight in the middle of the ice, then left to listen to his scores, which were then a mere formality. Once they were read, Chen’s longtime trainer, Rafael Arutyunyan, raised Chen’s arm like a triumphant boxer.
While the spotlight shone like never before on Chen, it seemed to fade for his longtime Japanese rival.
Yuzuru Hanyu arrived in Beijing aiming to become the first male skater since Gillis Grafstrom in 1928 to win a third consecutive Olympic gold medal. But after missing most of last year with an ankle injury, the 27-year-old struggled to keep up with his short program on Tuesday, essentially putting him out of contention for a medal.
All Hanyu was left with was a free kick on the quadruple axis, a 4 1/2 turn jump that has never been successful in competition. He got close, but couldn’t quite hold on on the landing, then fell back onto his quad salchow before an emotional end to what could be his last performance on Olympic ice.
His score places him fourth, behind his two teammates.
And, of course, behind the new American champion.