The twenty-two-year-old determine skater Nathan Chen grew up in Salt Lake Metropolis, the place he took his first classes carrying his older sister’s hand-me-down skates, on a follow rink for the 2002 Olympic Video games. By the age of ten, he’d gained the novice title on the nationwide championships. His mom, a Chinese language immigrant, started driving him to California to coach; to save lots of money, they generally slept within the automotive as an alternative of reserving a resort room. At his Olympic début, in 2018, in Pyeongchang, South Korea, Chen was a favourite to win gold, however he fell throughout his brief program and entered the free skate in seventeenth place. With little to lose, Chen ended these Olympics on a notice of go-for-broke glory, touchdown 5 deliberate quadruple jumps in his lengthy program and, only for kicks, including in an surprising sixth. The efficiency wasn’t sufficient to get him on the rostrum—he ended up ending fifth—but it surely lingered within the minds of followers as a show of his virtuosic expertise. He’s usually known as the Quad King.
In 2018, Chen enrolled at Yale College, the place he research statistics and information science. Earlier than taking a go away of absence to coach for his second Olympics, he’d spend the mornings at school and save the afternoons for skating on the campus rink. Earlier this month, in Beijing, Chen earned the gold medal that had eluded him within the males’s singles, topping off a record-breaking brief program with a hovering free skate, scored to an Elton John medley. He additionally helped lead the U.S. staff to a silver medal. However the competitors was rapidly overshadowed by information that the fifteen-year-old Russian skater Kamila Valieva, a favourite within the girls’s singles, had examined optimistic for a banned substance. (Information broke earlier this week that one other skater, Laura Barquero, of Spain, additionally failed a drug take a look at.) In a controversial resolution, the Worldwide Olympic Committee allowed Valieva to compete however postponed awarding medals in any occasion through which she positioned within the prime three. That selection ended up affecting solely the staff competitors, through which the Russians had gained gold. Chen and eight of his U.S. teammates filed a petition demanding their silver medals, to no avail.
Final week, Chen returned from Beijing, after ending off the Video games with a backflip on ice on the figure-skating exhibition gala. As he rushed to catch a flight from New York to California, the place he deliberate to go on “The Late Late Present with James Corden,” we mentioned his profitable efficiency, the doping controversy, and his personal altering relationship to the game. Our dialog has been edited and condensed.
First off, I wished to say congratulations. You have been unimaginable in Beijing. The backflip on Sunday was an added plus. Take me by the times for the reason that closing ceremony.
It’s been fairly chaotic, actually. All of the U.S. delegation flew from Beijing to Seoul, after which from Seoul to Salt Lake Metropolis. From there, I went to New York for 2 days for a bunch of various media issues. So I’ve simply been spending the previous few days right here in New York, and I’m at the moment flying again to California.
I noticed that, earlier this week, on the “At the moment” present, you bought to reunite together with your mother, who was born in Beijing. How did it really feel to compete in her dwelling city?
It was unimaginable. I had been in Beijing with my mother after I was round ten. On our bus trip from the Olympic Village to the venue, I handed the Beijing Zoo and a bunch of different websites that I went to together with her. So it was cool to have that reminiscence, to know that’s the place she’s from, that’s the place she spent a superb portion of formative years—and to know that, a few years later, I used to be capable of come again and compete within the Olympics. It’s fairly loopy.
How did the Olympic Village this time round—in Beijing, in the course of the pandemic—evaluate to the one in 2018?
This Village was barely bigger than the one in Korea—so we had a bit more room to roam round and discover. Honestly, although, whenever you’re on the Olympics, you don’t actually wish to exit an excessive amount of. It’s largely, like, Hey, we’re simply going to remain in our rooms, relaxation and calm down, and put together for our occasions. I do know sure athletes would possibly wish to discover a bit bit extra, however I’m simply, like, I’m gonna seclude myself in my room and get in my restoration earlier than I compete. In order that was principally the identical in Korea and in Beijing. I believe the one main distinction was that numerous the employees have been carrying hazmat fits. It felt very 2020 pandemic period.
One huge heartbreak of those Video games was studying that your teammate Vincent Zhou contracted COVID and needed to withdraw earlier than the tip of the staff occasion. How did you and your teammates be taught that information, and the way did it have an effect on you in actual time?
We realized the information once we have been on the staff ceremony, truly, and we have been all shocked. It hurts when it’s certainly one of your personal, particularly since he was undoubtedly one of many contenders for a medal. My coronary heart goes out to this child—properly, not a child anymore. And I can’t even think about how tough it should have been. He clearly is an individual who takes COVID very severely and did loads to stop it, so it simply appears so loopy that this occurred to him. I don’t even have the phrases. He’s been such an excellent sport about all the pieces, although—it’s been superior to see how strong-minded he’s, and the way good a teammate he has been to all of us, regardless of all that has occurred. His scenario went thus far that he was not allowed to stroll with us in closing, which I assumed was completely ridiculous. He was capable of do the exhibition after which wasn’t capable of do the closing ceremony, which was outside—and we have been all masked, and he’d already totally recovered. The entire scenario for him was actually unlucky.
Had been you capable of sustain with him whereas he was in isolation?
I didn’t have WhatsApp, so I used to be not capable of talk with him. However after, when he got here out of isolation, I discussed how powerful that scenario should have been for him, how sorry I used to be for him.
Previous to the Olympics, a cybersecurity warning from Workforce U.S.A. advisable that athletes use burner telephones in Beijing. Did you and the remainder of the staff go away your private units at dwelling?
I introduced my gadget, however I didn’t flip it on. I had it with me. I muted communication earlier than I left for China. As soon as I landed in China, I used a telephone that was given to me by my federation.
I’ve seen your victory in Beijing described within the media as a “redemption” to your efficiency in Korea, the place you positioned fifth, and also you your self have described that efficiency as a sort of demise. I’m curious how you’re feeling concerning the redemption framing. It appears to suggest that you simply did one thing mistaken final time. I’m questioning whether or not that bothers you or makes it tougher to compete.
I don’t essentially assume so. And I do know that that’s sort of been the narrative that’s been pushed within the media. However I definitely assume that 2018 was an excellent studying expertise. If I had the choice to return and alter the outcomes and carry out otherwise, yeah, positive, I’d like to. However on the similar time, that supplied a recent perspective on skating, competing, and with the ability to be current, to get pleasure from these competitors experiences—which, I believe, actually, in the long term, is loads more healthy.
The previous yr has been dominated by discussions concerning the psychological challenges of sports activities. I’m considering of a variety of outstanding U.S. athletes—Simone Biles, Naomi Osaka—who’ve spoken candidly about preserving their psychological well being. How has your outlook in that regard modified since 2018?
I don’t assume it has modified an excessive amount of. However I do actually respect all of the outspokenness of the 2 athletes you talked about. Michael Phelps has been a robust proponent of this for a very long time—Gracie Gold, as properly. Sometimes, even athletes assume that different athletes are these unbeatable marble towers, you realize—that there’s nothing mistaken with them, that they’re all the time completely wholesome, completely sturdy. And now the narrative is switching, like, Hey, we’re additionally people, and we additionally need to respect ourselves as people. And that’s highly effective. It’s actually nice that there’s one other dialog, and that an increasing number of athletes are talking up concerning the points they’ve been coping with, or simply their journeys in life. For me, the most important swap was recognizing that it’s O.Okay. to take a step again, it’s O.Okay. to consider your self as a human first.