The twenty-two-year-old determine skater Nathan Chen grew up in Salt Lake Metropolis, the place he took his first classes sporting his older sister’s hand-me-down skates, on a apply 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 observe 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—nevertheless it lingered within the minds of followers as a show of his virtuosic expertise. He’s typically known as the Quad King.
In 2018, Chen enrolled at Yale College, the place he research statistics and knowledge science. Earlier than taking a go away of absence to coach for his second Olympics, he’d spend the mornings in 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. crew 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 ladies’s singles, had examined constructive for a banned substance. (Information broke earlier this week that one other skater, Laura Barquero, of Spain, additionally failed a drug check.) In a controversial choice, 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 crew 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 needed to say congratulations. You had been unimaginable in Beijing. The backflip on Sunday was an added plus. Take me by way of 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 along with your mother, who was born in Beijing. How did it really feel to compete in her house 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 very good portion of adolescence—and to know that, a few years later, I used to be in a position to 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—examine to the one in 2018?
This Village was barely bigger than the one in Korea—so we had a bit extra space to roam round and discover. In truth, 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 loosen up, and put together for our occasions. I do know sure athletes may prefer to discover slightly 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 mainly the identical in Korea and in Beijing. I feel the one main distinction was that lots of the employees had been sporting hazmat fits. It felt very 2020 pandemic period.
One massive heartbreak of those Video games was studying that your teammate Vincent Zhou contracted COVID and needed to withdraw earlier than the top of the crew 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 had been on the crew ceremony, truly, and we had been all shocked. It hurts when it’s one in all your personal, particularly since he was undoubtedly one of many contenders for a medal. My coronary heart goes out to this child—effectively, 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 rather a lot to forestall it, so it simply appears so loopy that this occurred to him. I don’t even have the phrases. He’s been such an important 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 state of affairs went to this point that he was not allowed to stroll with us in closing, which I believed was completely ridiculous. He was in a position to do the exhibition after which wasn’t in a position to do the closing ceremony, which was outside—and we had been all masked, and he’d already totally recovered. The entire state of affairs for him was actually unlucky.
Have been you in a position to sustain with him whereas he was in isolation?
I didn’t have WhatsApp, so I used to be not in a position to talk with him. However after, when he got here out of isolation, I discussed how robust that state of affairs should have been for him, how sorry I used to be for him.
Previous to the Olympics, a cybersecurity warning from Group U.S.A. advisable that athletes use burner telephones in Beijing. Did you and the remainder of the crew go away your private gadgets at house?
I introduced my machine, 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 cellphone that was given to me by my federation.
I’ve seen your victory in Beijing described within the media as a “redemption” on your efficiency in Korea, the place you positioned fifth, and also you your self have described that efficiency as a form of demise. I’m curious how you are feeling concerning the redemption framing. It appears to suggest that you just did one thing fallacious final time. I’m questioning whether or not that bothers you or makes it more durable to compete.
I don’t essentially assume so. And I do know that that’s form of been the narrative that’s been pushed within the media. However I definitely assume that 2018 was an important studying expertise. If I had the choice to return and alter the outcomes and carry out in a different way, yeah, certain, I’d like to. However on the similar time, that offered a contemporary perspective on skating, competing, and having the ability to be current, to get pleasure from these competitors experiences—which, I feel, actually, in the long term, is rather a lot more healthy.
The previous yr has been dominated by discussions concerning the psychological challenges of sports activities. I’m considering of quite a few 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 admire all of the outspokenness of the 2 athletes you talked about. Michael Phelps has been a powerful proponent of this for a very long time—Gracie Gold, as effectively. Usually, even athletes assume that different athletes are these unbeatable marble towers, you already know—that there’s nothing fallacious 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 largest 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.