After Nathan Chen had impressed a panel of determine skating judges on the Beijing Olympics final February by performing a vibrant and difficult free skate program that lifted him above a formidable subject and secured his long-awaited gold medal, he needed to face his hardest decide:
Beijing-born Hetty Chen, who cleaned homes and labored as a medical interpreter to finance his determine skating profession and the pursuits of her 4 older youngsters, had advocated for him. Coached him. Protected him, too, although her thrifty buy of white hockey skates as an alternative of the usual black wasn’t successful.
She additionally had a means of protecting him grounded that allowed him to soar, and he considered her within the moments earlier than he grew to become the primary Asian-American man to win an Olympic singles determine skating gold medal.
Skating to Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” Chen started his three-jump mixture with a quadruple toe loop however didn’t have sufficient momentum to complete with a triple flip. As a substitute, he ended with a single flip. He recovered rapidly, and shortly realized he would win. Even so, as he mentioned in his latest memoir, “One Jump at a Time,” he anticipated to listen to about his misstep. “Ma is going to be upset about that toe-flip,” he wrote.
After he attended a information convention and underwent drug testing, he spoke to Hetty and his household. “Seconds into the call, she asked me, ‘What happened with the quad toe-triple flip? Why did you make that mistake?’ ” he wrote. “That was exactly her.”
He wouldn’t have it another means. “No matter what I accomplish, if there’s things that can be better she’ll definitely make sure I know about it,” Chen mentioned final week between courses at Yale, the place he has a yr and a half remaining on his path to a level in statistics and knowledge science.
Chen collaborated on the ebook with TIME author Alice Park, typing his ideas right into a shared doc between stops on the Stars on Ice tour final summer time. He relied on Hetty, his siblings and his pals to substantiate his reminiscences and fill in some blanks about his childhood in Salt Lake Metropolis.
He remembers being impressed whereas skating in a rink that was a follow venue for the 2002 Salt Lake Metropolis Video games. However he didn’t recall posing for a photograph along with his two brothers in entrance of Rice-Eccles Stadium, the place the Olympic flame had burned, standing close to an indication with the Video games motto, “Light the fire within.” He wrote, “As I look back, this is probably where my Olympic journey really began.”
Hetty additionally informed him concerning the day he stood close to the door of his rink and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as he had seen swimmer Michael Phelps do throughout a medal ceremony on the 2004 Summer season Olympics. It made excellent sense to 5-year-old Nathan. He was pretending he had received a gold medal and needed to follow the anthem.
“She was definitely very involved in helping me write that book in terms of whether the stories were correct from her perspective as well,” Chen mentioned. “It was kind of cool [to] look through all those bits and pieces and try to collect them into a cohesive story. It was a very reflective process for me.”
The ebook, which honors his heritage by introducing every chapter with a Chinese language proverb, has a matter-of-fact tone. However it deserves excessive scores for trustworthy insights from Chen, who delves into what it took for him to succeed in the highest of the determine skating world and describes the sacrifices made by his household. He’s additionally frank about his implosion on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, the place he felt paralyzed by grand expectations.
As a child he competed in hockey and gymnastics and danced with a ballet firm, however his determine skating expertise stood above all. “I thrived on the feeling of power coming from zipping silently across a pristine, freshly cut sheet of ice,” he wrote. Recognizing his potential, his mother and father drove him to Lake Arrowhead, amongst different spots, for one of the best teaching and amenities. They discovered sponsors and benefited from grants from a basis established by Michael Weiss, a former U.S. champion who helps fund skaters in a forbiddingly costly sport.
Chen received his first U.S. title in 2010, on the novice stage and received his first of six straight senior stage championships in 2017. He and defending champion Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu have been co-favorites on the 2018 Olympics, however Chen couldn’t management his nerves and dread. “I saw the rings and I froze,” he mentioned of the Olympic image. He stumbled to 17th within the brief program. Free of stress, he carried out a lights-out free skate and climbed to fifth. He received the primary of his three world championships in 2018.
He enrolled at Yale, planning to check and compete, however he needed to alter when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. He was lucky to follow at Nice Park Ice in Irvine, the place security protocols have been fastidiously maintained for him, coach Rafael Arutunian and different elite skaters. He expanded his workforce so as to add a psychological coach, who taught him visualizing success would assist him stay it. A world-record rating within the brief program validated that at Beijing and arrange his gold-medal triumph. “That monkey had been on my back for so long,” he wrote.
Chen has since collaborated on an image ebook, “Wei Skates On,” on account of be printed subsequent month. It’s a couple of fictional Chinese language-American boy who finds inspiration in skating, with the assistance of his mom. “I wanted it to be someone else. But I obviously have pieces of myself in it,” he mentioned.
The U.S. determine skating championships can be held this week in San Jose however Chen received’t be there; he has competed yearly beginning in 2010. “There’s things I really love and miss,” he mentioned of competing.
He hasn’t closed the door on trying a gold-medal repeat on the 2026 Cortina-Milano Olympics. “Nothing at all has been finalized. Nor do I think I really need to right now,” he mentioned. “I have a lot of things that I’m engaged with but it’s not something that I’m like, ‘For sure, I don’t want to do that ever again.’ I want to maintain the option and just see how my body is doing, how my mind is doing, how my projects are doing.”
His fireplace nonetheless burns. Thank his mom — and him — for no matter that fireplace may encourage him to do.