2022 World Gymnastics Championships TV, Live Stream Schedule
In “One Jump at a Time”, coming out tuesdayOlympic champion figure skater Nathan Chen tells the story of his life, from his upbringing as the youngest of five children in a Chinese-American family to his journey through sports. In this excerpt, Chen writes about his disappointing and then redeeming performances at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympics, including his coach, Raphael Aroutiounyanand sister Alice …
As soon as I stepped onto the ice for the individual short program, it was exactly the same situation as before the team short program a few days before – exactly the same feeling. I thought, “Oh no, I don’t think I can do that.” This time it was almost worse because I couldn’t get rid of the memory of what had happened a few days earlier.
Against Raf’s advice, I decided to opt for the quad Lutz to open the program, rather than the quad flip. When I stumbled upon that first jump, my first thought was, “I really wish I could go back and restart this program. But of course that was not an option. Instead, I allowed myself to get caught up in a messy game of trying to make up for that initial mistake by mentally mixing and matching the two remaining skipped passes to maximize my points. I had spent so much energy getting up from that fall that I started thinking, “How can I adjust my program to potentially get a higher score and conserve my energy, so I don’t miss every jump of This program ?” I made a last minute decision to swap the planned quad flip for the easier quad toe in the second half of the program, but I was not mentally prepared for this jump. And while I was busy worrying about it, I did exactly what I feared: I missed all three of my jump passes. Still.
I came off my quad toe and did the same after landing my triple Axel. I was so off balance that I had to put my hand on the ice.
If I had fixed my mind on a short program – either the one Raf suggested or the one I wanted to play – and stuck to it no matter what, I probably could have saved those two disastrous short programs, or at least putting together something that would have been better than what I actually played. Having too many save options and too many combinations in my head, when I should have been focusing on tracking what I had been practicing all season, introduced too much margin for error and ended up prepare for failure.
Coming out of the ice, I couldn’t look at Raf or anyone else in the arena.
I knew I would only see disappointment. I hadn’t received such low ratings in years. I wanted to get away from the bright lights of the arena. I didn’t want to talk to the media, I wanted to get out of the rink as soon as possible. I didn’t know I had the right to skip the mixed zone, which is that glove of reporters who bombard you with a bunch of questions. So I faced them. I remember the reporters being really nice, maybe because they were as shocked as I was and didn’t know what to make of what had happened. They asked me, “How do you feel?”
I said, “I don’t feel well,” and that was about it.
By the time everyone had skated, I was in seventeenth place out of two dozen skaters. As soon as my press obligations were fulfilled, I slipped out of the arena and returned to my room in the Village. I just wanted to lie in bed and not think at all.
I don’t remember if I called my mom, or if she called me as she was walking out of the arena with my family, but we talked.
“Do me a favor, Nathan,” she said.
“What?” I answered.
“You just have to skate a long clean tomorrow. You can do it.”
I desperately wanted to do the same, but I was not at all willing to make any promises. It was my mother’s way of encouraging me. His philosophy as the parent of all his children was to never give up. She wanted us to work hard and train hard to get the best results; but if things weren’t going well, she also wanted us to continue despite the result. That’s why she told Genia that I would still skate at Novice Championships so many years ago, even though I had been injured three weeks before the competition. Even if I came last, if I didn’t even try, I would never know what I could accomplish. Her one-sentence request embodied it all: by asking me to skate a clean free skate, she was telling me that the competition was not over yet.
At the time, however, I didn’t want to think about what had happened at all. For the next eighteen hours, I lay in my bed under my covers. It was still relatively early in the afternoon, since the competition had taken place in the morning, but I closed the blinds and didn’t eat anything. I’m just laying there in the dark. At one point I got up to take a shower and then tried to fall asleep. But sleep had eluded me since arriving in PyeongChang. I was only half asleep, which meant I never felt fully physically recovered. I used to sleep close to ten hours at home, but I haven’t been getting that much the past few days. Since I was struggling with this now, I started to panic.
I kept tossing and turning, until finally I called Alice.
” I can not sleep. What should I do?” I asked. “Should I take Tylenol PM?
I had brought Tylenol PM to PyeongChang just in case I needed it to help me fall asleep. I had used it before, but felt sleepy and less responsive the next morning. I had an early morning practice for the free skate the next day and didn’t want to feel sleepy on the ice.
Alice was at the Airbnb and decided to consult with the whole family. We thought it was good for me to take one so I could sleep and get up relatively early the next morning. I didn’t really want to get into a discussion about anything else at the time, and I think my family sensed that and respected that. As soon as we decided I could take Tylenol PM, I hung up.
That night, I had the best night’s sleep of my entire stay in South Korea. I woke up the next morning well rested and feeling really fresh for the free program, which was scheduled for 10am. Morning.
Deep down I wondered if it was worth trying out six quads, like Raf and I had planned, since my workouts had been so inconsistent. I had made every possible mistake on my jumps in the two short programs I had skated so far, so I thought to myself, what difference would it make if I did a few more? I was beyond worried about the outcome at that point. I had nothing to lose: falling further down the rankings wouldn’t change anything, and winning a medal was out of the question. My mother and Tony were in my office that morning; and although we didn’t talk, I made eye contact with my mom, which made me feel a little better. I knew she was rooting for me no matter what had happened. Tony was very supportive – and loud. There weren’t many people in the rink at that time, so I could hear him shouting, “Go ahead, Nathan!” or “Yeah, Nathan” every time I landed a jump. With all the pressure finally dissipated, I skated a full course of my program during this practice.
During this session, Yuzuru came for her practice session. I was still on the ice when he arrived and started to warm up. He was of course in the lead after the short program, 4.1 points clear of second-placed Javier Fernandez. Maybe I was projecting how I felt, but to me it seemed like Yuzuru was enjoying the moment and really relishing being at her second Olympics and maybe about to defend her Olympic title. It’s not an easy place to live, and he also had a lot of pressure on him to become Olympic champion again, which hadn’t been done since Dick Button in 1948 and 1952. But rather than having looking anxious or uncomfortable with all these expectations, he seemed calm and simply grateful to have the chance to be there in competition. I remember realizing that I had not felt these sensations once during this competition. I didn’t talk to him or ask him how he felt; and maybe it was just in my head, because my Olympics had been so stressful and disappointing, but that’s something that stuck with me from that training.
My mentality before the free program was completely different from what it was before the short program. I no longer cared about the results. It’s not that I wasn’t grateful to have the opportunity to skate in the Olympics, something I had dreamed of for so long, but my focus had changed dramatically. I spoke to my family briefly, and through text messages they were telling me to focus on that gratitude – even though my previous two programs had gone through, I still had another opportunity to compete. And that was more than many athletes could hope for.
At that point, it was no longer a question of where I stood. I wasn’t focused on getting the highest levels for my pirouettes or my footwork, and I didn’t really care about falling on every jump. I figured my goal was to start the program at the beginning of the music and end it at the end of the music, and everything in between would happen.
As inappreciable as this approach seems, this mindset was what I needed to counter the “Olympic gold or bust” thinking that had weighed on me up to this point. Sitting in seventeenth place, I had almost nowhere to go, but it might have freed me up to finally skate to the level I knew I was capable of. And somehow, I did. I stood on all six quad jumps and won the free skate portion of the event.
I had done what my mother had asked me to do.
Excerpt from the book ONE JUMP AT A TIME. Copyright (c) 2022 by Nathan Chen. Published November 22, 2022 by Harper, an imprint of HarperCollins Publishers. Reprinted with permission.
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