Nathan Chen said “he never thought he’d be able to make it this far” as he won Olympic figure skating gold in Beijing on Thursday, easily beating defending champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who fell twice and finished fourth. The American three-time world champion finally claimed the only major prize that had eluded him with his overall score of 332.60, more than 20 points ahead of his nearest challenger. Chen held his nerve to score 218.63 in his free programme, building on his record-breaking short programme score from Tuesday to win gold from 18-year-old Yuma Kagiyama. Another Japanese skater, Shoma Uno, took bronze.
“I never really thought that I’d be able to make it this far in my career,” said the 22-year-old Chen.
“I’d always of course dreamed about making the Olympics and winning the Olympics, but I was like… I don’t know if I can make that happen. I haven’t really had time to process fully, but it’s amazing so far.”
Skating to “Rocket Man” by Elton John, Chen lived up to his nickname “Quad King” in a routine in which he landed five quadruple jumps, to rapturous cheers from the crowd.
After his last jump — which later he said he had “almost tripped on” — he broke into a hip-hop-like dance choreography, clearly enjoying himself.
“This programme, no matter what, is always fun for me to skate,” he said afterwards.
As the music died, he dropped his head back in relief.
Japanese icon Hanyu, chasing a third gold in a row and looking to cement his status as one of the best skaters of all time, had a shaky start in the short programme and saw any chance of gold vanish as he fell twice in his second routine.
His free programme score of 188.06 was far short of his all-time best of 212.99.
“I think I did everything I could,” said Hanyu, who only arrived in Beijing on Sunday, two days before competing.
“Honestly, it feels like everything has gone wrong this time around, but I did my best.”
After finishing eighth in the short programme, the champion from the 2014 and 2018 Games needed to make up a gap of 18.82 points to beat Chen.
Dressed in a long sky-coloured shirt embroidered with sequinned flowers, Hanyu entered the rink to screams from the crowd.
He was visibly nervous before he started — hanging off the rink’s edge, staring at the floor and making the sign of the cross before taking up his starting position.
The 27-year-old attempted a quadruple axel — a jump no skater has ever landed in competition but which he had insisted he would perform in Beijing.
He failed to land it and fell to the ice.
He quickly rose but fell once more, before carrying on his “Heaven and Earth” programme with his usual polished precision.
Looking crushed as the music died down, Hanyu recovered and skated off the rink with his head held high, the crowd still cheering.
Asked about Chen’s performance, Hanyu said: “It was so great, it was so cool… I want to say congratulations to him.”
Chen said that it had been “an honour to be able to share the ice with Hanyu” over the years.
“Again, watching him when I was a kid, I never even dreamed that I would be able to have the opportunity to even skate with him.
“It’s just been a really great honour and he’s in my opinion the greatest skater ever.”
Kagiyama, who flew around the ice to the rousing theme from the film “Gladiator”, was the only other competitor to score above 200 points for the free programme.
He is trained by his father, a former Olympian, who was moved to tears when his score was announced.
“Whether a good or a bad time, we have been together all the time, and we overcame these moments,” the softspoken Yuma said. “To be able to demonstrate that I’ve grown to him, makes me quite happy.”
When asked about Hanyu, Uno said he had been at the forefront of Japanese figure skating for years.
“His spirit to keep staying at the top is something that I cannot emulate.”
Uno fell once but otherwise delivered a controlled performance to “Bolero”.
“Nobody can expect perfect skating for every jump,” said Uno. “Except Nathan!”
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