Blog

Nathan Chen redeems himself

  Two-time gold medal winner Yuzuru Hanyu (left) and American competitor who fell out of medal standing, Nathan Chen.

Two-time gold medal winner Yuzuru Hanyu (left) and American competitor who fell out of medal standing, Nathan Chen.

One of the things that has always fascinated me as an arts writer and singer is performance anxiety. Why do some people rise to an occasion when others, perhaps more talented, shrink?

Nerves have a lot to do with it and, as with most challenges, only you yourself can overcome them. No one can do it for you. Indeed, others, however well-meaning, may only make it worse.

In the men’s figure skating free program, Nathan Chen – who had turned in disastrous performances in the team competition and short program – put on a skating clinic, executing six quad jumps and earning the fifth highest score in Olympic history. What made the difference? With nothing to lose and everything to gain, he went for it.

And suddenly, those who might pay attention to skating only every four years understood what he was capable of.

It was a redemptive skate, though not enough to make the podium as Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu became the first man since Dick Buttons to win back-to-back golds, his firecracker of a countryman Shoma Uno took the silver and Spain’s Javier Fernandez the bronze.

It was a most entertaining free skate, with lots of thrills and chills and few spills – one that showed, geopolitically at least, where skating is at – Asia.

If sports were politics, the medal count would show the United States to be a superpower in decline. We have eight medals, five gold, which puts us behind Norway, Germany, The Netherlands and Canada – this after the U.S. won 37 medals in Vancouver in 2010, an Olympic record, and 28 (but only nine gold) in Sochi in 2014.

As Casey Mattox tweeted: “That Olympic medal count isn’t looking very #MAGA, tbh.”