U.S. star Nathan Chen skated his way into a long-awaited gold medal Thursday at the 2022 Beijing Games.
Looking confident and composed, Chen, 22, scored a high 218.63 in the free skate, building on a record-breaking short program earlier this week.
Skating to the music of Elton John, Chen put on a masterful performance that included a quad flip and triple toe loop, a quad flip, and a triple axel. Team USA tweeted “Rocket Chen,” a reference to the song, after the gold medal win.
Chen said on NBC’s “TODAY” show Thursday morning that he was nervous, as usual, “but fortunately this music helps me get into the program, and I just have a lot of fun with this piece of music, so that helped a lot.”
Chen ended with a 332.60 total score. Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama took silver and Shoma Uno, also of Japan, won bronze.
“It’s just a whirlwind right now,” Chen told NBC’s Andrea Joyce after the win. “Everything’s just happening so fast, but I’m so happy.”
Chen became the first man to take home Olympic figure skating gold for the U.S. since 2010, when Evan Lysacek won at the Vancouver Games.
“I feel amazing, just finished of f the medal ceremony so I finally got this,” Chen said Thursday morning. “I truly never thought I’d make it this far in skating.”
“And to have the opportunity to be here at the Olympics and to be able to do what I did, it’s all thanks to people who have supported me during my career,” he said, specifically highlighting his mother’s sacrifice over the years.
Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan’s two-time Olympic gold medalist and defending champion, fell short of the podium with an overall score of 283.21.
Four years ago at the 2018 PyeongChang Games, Chen had been considered a gold medalist contender but suffered a heartbreaking poor performance in the short program that sunk his chances.
This time, he set a new world record of 113.97 in the individual short program with a performance that included a quad flip, triple axel and a quad lutz-triple toe loop combination.
That score put him in the lead heading into the crucial free skate. Thursday’s winner was determined by the combined scores in the individual short program and the free skate, which is longer.
Chen, of Salt Lake City, Utah, said Tuesday that he was “just elated” to do well.
“The last Olympics, both short programs didn’t go the way that I wanted, and finally getting the opportunity to skate the program to the way that I wanted — it feels really great, it means a lot,” he said.
“I mean I certainly learn the most from my mistakes,” Chen said Thursday. “The fact that I was able to get a second chance at the Olympics, I didn’t want to lose out on this opportunity.”
“Certainly my mindset here was just to enjoy every moment and so far I‘ve been able to do that,” he added.
Chen has excelled since his disappointing short program in 2018, including in a free skate in PyeongChang that was called redemptive.
He also won world figure skating championship gold in 2021, 2019 and 2018.
Chen’s Olympic gold medal though was “heavier than I was expecting,” he said. “But yeah, it’s beautiful and I’m so thrilled to have it.”