The “quad king” reigns.
Eighteen-year-old U.S. figure skating champion Nathan Chen rebounded from back-to-back disappointments at his first two Olympic skates to land, in his final competitive appearance the PyeongChang Winter Games, something that no one here has ever done before: six quadruple jumps in a single routine.
After finishing his free skate, the crowd in South Korea’s Gangneung Ice Arena roared to their feet for a standing ovation as Chen appeared visibly overcome with relief in the middle of the rink.
Such a quad-heavy performance earned him a score of 215.08, which combined with his middling short program score of 82.27, gave Chen a total of 297.35 — strong enough for the No. 1 so far (as the men’s individual event continues into Friday afternoon local time).
Chen spoke to NBC after his skate, and said his disappointing earlier results actually helped him feel more comfortable on the ice.
“I think honestly, putting down such a rough short program took all the pressure away from me,” he said. “It was just me on the ice enjoying the crowd and soaking in the Olympic experience.”
He added: “I wanted to leave here satisfied and I certainly am.”
Chen landed five clean landing and slipped on the sixth, and told NBC he has been quietly working on delivering the surprise six quads, noting that “everything fully came together.”
After his skate, the kudos poured in from skating royalty.
What?!?!?! Completely inhuman display of ridiculousness!!! 6 quads…beautiful skating. Guys beyond. Congratulations @nathanwchen (excuse my chicken scratch) #bowdown #figureskating pic.twitter.com/PjbTGM5pfr
— Kristi Yamaguchi (@kristiyamaguchi) February 17, 2018
Chen – Complete package good for you. This is who we waited for. Like Beyonce you’re back on the stage
— Dick Button (@PushDicksButton) February 17, 2018
— Scott Hamilton (@ScottHamilton84) February 17, 2018
The Salt Lake City native’s Friday competition, which aired Thursday night into Friday morning stateside, will wrap up his first Olympics on a positive note after a series of surprising errors marred his first two appearances, seemingly getting worse the longer he skated.
Considered Team USA’s best hope for a figure skating gold medal before heading to South Korea, Chen fell last week during his short program in the skating team event.
In a reprisal of that routine on Thursday, Chen fell again — and then again. Afterward he told reporters he “made as many mistakes as I possibly could have.”
“It was rough again,” he said then. “I still need some time to think about it. It happens, and I guess I try to move on from here.”
It remained unclear how Chen would recover just a day after his free skate, having already claimed he had corrected himself from the first short program to the second and then turning in an error-prone performance.
But pull it off he did, proving the worth of the nickname that has followed him around in headlines (and as a star of NBC’s Olympics promotion).
RELATED VIDEO: Kids Interview the 2018 Winter Olympic Athletes
Chen is the first skater to complete five quads in a single program, the first to do so in an Olympic competition and the first — and only — skater to be able to land five of the six kinds of quad jumps.
Only one other competitor is even set to attempt something similar in Korea: fellow American skater Vincent Zhou, 17, is planning five quads in his own Olympic free skate on Friday.
As bronze medalist and retired skater Tim Goebel told Wired last week of Chen: “He has defined the current limit of the sport.”
“For the time being,” Goebel said, “he’s set the standard.”
The Olympics are airing live on NBC. To learn more, visit teamusa.org.