U.S. skater Nathan Chen sets world record in short program

With his short program, Chen put himself in a strong position to win his long-sought gold. (David J. Phillip/AP)

BEIJING — Nathan Chen shattered the world record during his short program at the Beijing Olympics, scoring 113.97 points Tuesday to beat the previous mark of longtime rival Yuzuru Hanyu and put himself in position to win his long-sought gold medal.

With a confident smirk as he took the ice, the 22-year-old Chen avenged his poor performance from four years ago in Pyeongchang in the biggest way possible. He opened with a perfect quad flip, breezed through a triple axel that sometimes causes him problems, then drilled his quad flip-triple toe loop combination to leave most of the crowd in awe.

Chen’s total was nearly six points ahead of Yuma Kagiyama, who sits in second place, and nearly 20 ahead of Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion who bailed on his opening quad attempt during a calamitous short program.

“I was just elated,” said Chen, who helped the U.S. win team silver earlier this week. “At the last Olympics, both of the short programs didn’t go the way I wanted. To finally get an opportunity to skate the programs I wanted feels really good.”

Now, all that’s left is a strong free skate Thursday for the charismatic Chen to become an Olympic champion.

“Every opportunity I get at competitions I should be grateful for,” he said, “and especially the Olympics.”

Kagiyama drilled a pair of quads and a triple axel during his own dynamic short program to finish with 108.12 points, while fellow Japanese skater Shoma Uno — the reigning Olympic silver medalist — was third with 105.90 points.

Instead of Hanyu, their longtime idol, it will be Kagiyama and Uno standing in the way of Chen’s gold medal.

“I feel really shocked today, but I have one more chance,” said Hanyu, who believes his skate hit a hole early in his short program, forcing him to bail out of a planned quad salchow and leaving him in eighth place with 95.15 points.

The showdown between Chen and Hanyu has been building the past four years, ever since what the young American called a “disastrous” short program in Pyeongchang took Chen out of medal contention before he felt he had arrived.[More Sports] Figure skater Zhu Yi harassed online after falling during Olympic performance »

Rather than taking a break afterward, Chen doubled down, working tirelessly with longtime coach Rafael Arutyunyan while simultaneously working toward his degree from Yale. He sharpened every aspect of his figure skating, from technical marks to his artistry, and he began to put together programs that nobody else had the nerve to try.

His short program in Beijing, with a base value of 36.27 points, was the hardest attempted in competition.

Chen’s ferociously steady build toward his second Olympics, a stretch that included three world titles and the most recent of his six national championships, contrasted starkly with the bumpy, injury-filled path that Hanyu took to Beijing.

After becoming the first man to successfully defend an Olympic title since American skater Dick Button in 1952, Hanyu took a break from the sport to rest ligament damage in his right ankle. He skipped the Grand Prix season in 2020 because of the pandemic, then missed this past Grand Prix season because of more issues with his right ankle.

But just when it appeared that Uno and Kagiyama had surpassed the 27-year-old Hanyu, he showed up at the Japanese championship in December and promptly regained his crown.[More Sports] Miserable day on Olympic slopes for Mikaela Shiffrin, Red Gerard »

The long-awaited matchup between two of figure skating’s titans was on for Beijing.

It lasted about as long as it takes to lace up skates.

The preternaturally poised Hanyu, skating well before Chen, was seconds into his program when he set up for the first of two planned quads. But something was amiss the moment he took off, and Hanyu bailed out of the salchow to an audible gasp from the carefully separated crowd of a few thousand people inside Capital Indoor Stadium.

The quad salchow carries a base value of 9.70 points; Hanyu was given none of them.

“I’m happy with my skating after the first jump,” Hanyu said.

As if to drive home his extraordinary misstep, though, Uno was next on the ice and performed flawlessly. He landed his opening quad flip, then made a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination look easy. By the time Uno finished his program, set to a Vivaldi concerto, he had amassed 105.90 points and taken over first place.

Not to mention made himself, rather than Uno’s more famous teammate, the biggest obstacle to Chen’s gold medal.