Winter Olympics: American Nathan Chen dazzles to win men's figure skating gold

Nathan Chen scored 218.63 in the free skating performing to 'Rocket Man' by Elton John. PHOTO: AFP

BEIJING (REUTERS, AFP) - Nathan Chen of the United States claimed his maiden Olympic title when he won the gold medal in the men's singles with a dazzling free skating routine at the Beijing Games on Thursday (Feb 10).

The 22-year-old, who went home empty-handed after a meltdown in Pyeongchang four years ago, scored 218.63 in the free skating performing to Rocket Man by Elton John. That added to his world record in the short programme for a total of 332.60.

Yuma Kagiyama (310.05) was second and fellow Japanese Shoma Uno (293.00) ended up third.

Yuzuru Hanyu, who was hoping to win the event for the third time in a row, finished fourth on 283.21 after the Japanese skater dropped out of title contention in the short programme.

He had been looking to become the first skater to land the quadruple Axel in competition but the 27-year-old failed to deliver, also falling on a quadruple Salchow.

Hanyu, who finished behind his younger compatriots Kagiyama, who is just 18, and Shoma Uno, had looked in trouble as he fell twice in his routine earlier.

His free programme score of 188.06 was far short of his all-time best of 212.99.

“Honestly, it feels like everything has gone wrong this time around, but I did my best,” Hanyu said.

After a shaky start on Tuesday in the short programme, where he finished eighth, the Olympic champion from the 2014 Sochi and 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics needed to make up a gap of 18.82 points to beat Chen.

Hanyu was visibly nervous before he started – hanging off the rink’s edge, staring at the floor, making the sign of the cross and audibly keying himself up just before he took his starting position.

He first attempted a quadruple axel – a jump no skater has ever landed in competition but which he had insisted he would perform at the Beijing Games.

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, 27-year-old recovered and skated off the rink with his head held high, the crowd still cheering him.

“I think I did everything I could. I definitely landed a better axel than the previous time,” Hanyu said.

“Part of me feels I could’ve done it better, but that’s the best I could pull off, I think.”

Chen, coming into the Olympics having been defeated only once – at last year’s Skate America – since his Pyeongchang setback, delivered a masterclass at the Capital Indoor Stadium.

Wearing an orange and purple top decorated with stars in space in a nod to his medley of Elton John songs, Chen displayed power, grace and precision, landing four quadruple jumps as he triggered some rare cheering from a usually near-silent crowd. 

Kagiyama, 18, Uno and Hanyu watched in awe as Japan’s double Olympic champion knew he would have to make way for Chen, who exited the ice showing unusual signs of jubilation.

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