US skater Nathan Chen dazzles after poor short program

Pyeongchang Olympics Figure Skating Men_315159

Nathan Chen of the United States performs during the men’s free figure skating final in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea, Saturday, Feb. 17, 2018. (AP Photo/David J. Phillip)

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) Nathan Chen finally admitted that the pressure of being the face of American figure skating had gotten to him, winding him up so tight for his short program that it ended in what he described as a ”disaster.”

All that pressure was gone for his free skate.

Out of medals contention and finally skating with a free mind, the 18-year-old prodigy landed an unparalleled six quadruple jumps in a historic performance at the Pyeongchang Olympics. His personal-best score of 215.08 points Saturday left him feeling just a little bit vindicated, even if his 297.35 total would leave him well behind the medal contenders skating later in the day.

”As much as I tried to deny it, I think I did feel the pressure a lot, thinking about medals and placement and things like that, things that were entirely out of my control,” Chen explained. ”That just tightened me up, made me really cautious on the ice, and that’s not the way to skate.”

Chen had been the best American hope for a figure skating gold medal at the Winter Games, becoming the face of not only U.S. Figure Skating but ad campaigns for numerous Olympic sponsors. His coy smile, youthful exuberance and ability to land the hardest four-revolution jumps in the sport made for an ideal package of charm and substance.

That also put tremendous demands on his time.

Photo shoots. Interview requests. The constant attention and adoration that comes with the hopes of an entire nation resting on your shoulders. It all became a little much for him to handle.

That became evident when Chen struggled through his short program as part of the team event, which still helped the U.S. win the bronze medal. And it was on full display Friday, when he failed to land a single clean jump in the individual competition and fell to 17th out of the 24 skaters to advance.

”I think after having such a disastrous short program and being so, so low in the ranking – lower than I usually ever am – it allowed me to completely forget the results and focus on enjoying myself out on the ice,” Chen said, ”and getting rid of expectations helped a lot.”

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