Chen, 18, says a problem with her boots during her previous day in practice likely contributed to her lackluster performance in the free skate.
“I am extremely disappointed, I’m not going to lie, I know I’ve trained myself to skate better than that and not being able to deliver is a huge let down for myself and everyone who supported me,” Chen, who trains out of Riverside, California, told reporters after the event. “To be honest, I really was dealing with quite a bit of things, I was having some boot issues and I had to make some adjustments this morning during practice.”
The champion figure skater—who stands at 4 feet, 10 inches tall—usually pays a great deal of attention to her boots, and is said to switch her pair every six weeks because of feet problems.
This time, she says, her boot started to break down during practice.
“What was going on was kind of split and a lot of moisture had gone into the boot, so my blade was sinking into my skate and it was affecting the mounting a little bit,” she continued, adding that it still wasn’t an excuse. “I felt like I should have skated better and I could have focused better.”
Though she says she tried not to hold back and skate “without fear,” she still made mistakes she shouldn’t have. Ultimately, she said, “I think that just kind of worked its way into my doubt and I just did not end up the way I wanted.”
Chen was one of three Team USA female figure skaters participating in the free skate, along with 24-year-old Mirai Nagasu and 20-year-old Bradie Tennell. All three have been national champions at one point or another, but none of them skated cleanly in the individual event, which consisted of a short program and a free skate over two days in Gangneung, South Korea.
Tennell came in ninth, Nagasu finished 10th and Chen was 11th, only a small change from how they were positioned after the short program on Wednesday heading into Friday’s free skate. Even Tennell, a relative unknown who made her reputation on consistent jumps, could not stick all of her landings.
Chen, though, says her disappointing performance won’t keep her from setting her sights on the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing.
“I really do love it with all my heart and I want to do it for as long as I can,” she told NBC Sports. “I’m ready for Beijing, I’m ready for my next goal—I want to make the Olympic team again.”
Originally from Fremont, California, Chen started competing on an international level in 2013, coming in ninth at the 2014 World Junior Championships. In 2016, she moved up to the senior U.S. Championships, coming in eighth. But it was with her National Championship win in 2017 that Chen truly became a household name, giving her an increased visibility that comes with added pressure, she told PEOPLE.
Russia’s Alina Zagitova—competing as a neutral Olympic Athlete From Russia (OAR)—took home the gold during the women’s free skate, becoming the only Russian athlete to win an event in the 2018 Winter Games at just 15 years old
With reporting from Diana Pearl and Adam Carlson