The only person Nathan Chen is worried about at the PyeongChang Olympics is Nathan Chen.
“I want to ultimately experience the Olympics for myself,” Chen said in a recent media teleconference.
He hasn’t sought advice from U.S. Olympic skaters of years past. Partly, he said, that’s because he hasn’t reached out to anyone. He did recently meet 1948 Olympic gold medalist Dick Button at the national championships in January and called him a source of great wisdom.
Chen isn’t keeping a close eye on his main rivals, either. He knows what they’re up to. He added that without the group of them pushing each other the past few years, he likely wouldn’t be as good as he is now.
Plus, he’s beaten several of them at least once this season. To him, it has felt a little bit like ticking off boxes on his to-do list. He topped 2014 Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan at the Grand Prix event in Russia in October. He won Skate America over a field that included two-time Worlds bronze medalist Jin Boyang from China (it should be noted that Jin was hurt, however). He won the Grand Prix Final by half a point ahead of Japan’s Shoma Uno. Most recently, Chen was unparalleled at nationals, where he claimed his second title by over 40 points.
Chen is treating the Olympics like any other competition he might prepare for. That includes blocking out as much of the noise and distractions as he can.
“The Olympics has a lot of stigma around it obviously, but I still want to approach it just like any other competition. Try to block out the rest of the noise and focus on competing well,” he said.
Of course, that’s nearly impossible – among a bevy of sponsors, Chen starred in his very own Super Bowl commercial and is billed as one of the top U.S. medal hopes at the Games.
“I’ve seen my own commercial, and the commercials for all the other athletes,” Chen said, adding that the series of them is “incredible.”
The top six or so best men’s skaters could be sorted on a spectrum, with artistry on one end and athletic prowess on the other. Nobody wants that. Not the fans, not the athletes, not even the judges, who are expecting “full package” skaters, of which Chen is a prime example.
Chen, who began skating on a rink built for the 2002 Salt Lake City Games, is largely billed as a quadruple jump king. Rightly so. He’s the only man in the world to have landed five types of quads in competition (all but the Axel). Chen is also the first skater to attempt six quads in a free skate.
On the other hand, though, Chen grew up taking ballet lessons and even performed in productions such as the Nutcracker, Swan Lake, and Sleeping Beauty. Chen said his ballet knowledge helps him interpret nuances in the music and better understand the movements of his body.
“That definitely helped me as a kid and allowed me to adapt to different styles of skating, from hip-hop to contemporary to very classical ballet as well,” Chen said, adding with a chuckle, “and it was nice to have other boys in the class with me so I didn’t feel left out.”
As much as he is the full package, Chen said another factor in his success is his family. Chen is the youngest of five siblings, and all will be in attendance at his event in PyeongChang.
“It’s a big moment for me, and it’s a big moment for my family, so I’m excited that they’ll be there,” Chen said.
The competition environment will even feel like home, too, as training partner Adam Rippon is also representing Team USA at the Games. They share coach Rafael Arutunian at their rink in Lakewood, Calif.
“I think everything outside of the actual programs will be different, although I don’t exactly know what that is yet,” Chen said. “I’ll see as it comes along. As soon as I’m on the ice, and doing the program I’m planning to do, it’ll be the same as any other competition. It’ll be the same as practice.”
Chen played coy when asked how many quads he would go for in his programs at the Games.
“I got time to plan things out and see how things go in practices there [in PyeongChang],” said Chen. “I’ll make the decision as it comes along. I’ve been doing that for the past two years, so I trust myself to take the best program to the competition.”
Other than that, the rest of the plan – including his boots, blades, and Vera Wang-designed costumes – is already in place.
That plan includes the rest of the Games themselves – he wants to check out hockey and halfpipe events and, it almost goes without saying, walk in the Opening Ceremony. He definitely wants to march in the Parade of Nations, aided by heated jackets ] as part of the swag all the athletes receive. Depending on weather-related recommendations and other factors, though, he may not stay the whole time.
“For the most part I think I’ll be staying in the [Athletes’] Village,” Chen said. “Obviously, I’ve never been to an Olympic Village before so I don’t know what to expect. But I know that I’ll be with a group of great Team USA athletes and I think we’re all gonna have a good time there. We all know we’re at the Olympics so that in itself makes us all super excited.”
Outside the rink, Chen has kept busy, focusing on his future. Chen, who eventually wants to go to medical school, sent out college applications to Harvard, UC Berkeley, UC Irvine, and Stanford. But he might have to update his resume if he brings home as many as two Olympic medals. Chen is widely expected to participate in the team event, where the U.S. is predicted to land on the podium for the second straight Games. And, if all goes to plan, he could capture an individual medal on Feb. 16.