Nathan Chen, and Pretty Much Everyone Else, Struggles in First Figure Skating Event

Alice Park
Sports Illustrated
Nathan Chen, and Pretty Much Everyone Else, Struggles in First Figure Skating Event
Nathan Chen, and Pretty Much Everyone Else, Struggles in First Figure Skating Event

GANGNEUNG, South Korea—The first skating event of the 2018 Olympics began Friday, and the early morning start may have thrown skaters off.

While skating competitions generally occur at night, at these Games they’re scheduled for 10am Korea time to accommodate the time difference with much of the U.S. That shift may take athletes some getting used to, as the first competitors to take the ice in the men’s short program portion of the team event struggled to land their jumps. The only top contender to skate cleanly was Japan’s Shoma Uno, 20, who led the standings.

In the team event, 10 countries compete in short and long programs in four disciplines: men’s, women’s, pairs and dance. It’s only the second Olympics for the team event, in which countries are awarded points based on their rankings—10 points for first, nine for second, etc. On Friday morning, the men were followed by the pairs short program, which was won by Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov of Russia (called the Olympic Athletes from Russia team in these Olympics). Canada’s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford were second and Germany’s Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot third. Alexa and Chris Knierim of the U.S. finished fourth.

When the men’s scores and pairs’ scores were added, Canada led the team event followed by the U.S. and Japan. Those three countries, along with the fourth- and fifth-place finishers, Russia and Israel, will move on to compete for medals on Feb. 11 and 12.

The U.S.’s men’s entry, 18-year-old Nathan Chen, a gold medal favorite in the individual men’s event that starts on Feb 16, finished fourth after an uncharacteristically error-filled program. He fell on a triple axel, doubled a planned quadruple jump and downgraded a combination jump. Israel’s Alexei Bychenko finished second behind Uno and Canada’s Patrick Chan came in third.

Chen said the early start likely played a role in how he performed, although he has been rehearsing with earlier training times home in Los Angeles. “The seven o’clock practice was a little rough,” he said. “With the time change, it’s not a big deal, I just need to recalculate everything in my head.”

He admitted to nerves as well, but said “having this experience allows me to do better next time. I’m glad I got the opportunity to at least come out here, get the program down and learn from it. All I can do is try to analyze it and then just let it go and move on.”

While skating federation officials have been moving toward team events to encourage camaraderie among the characteristically internally focused skaters, the athletes themselves have been of two minds about having to compete in an additional event during the Olympics. For some, it’s an opportunity to shake out jitters and get used to skating across the Olympic rings. For others, it’s an added physical and mental challenge to perform at their peak twice in a few days.

All agree that one benefit of the team event is the cheering squad at rinkside. Skaters Bradie Tennell, Mirai Nagasu, Maia and Alex Shibutani, Adam Rippon and Vincent Zhou filled the U.S. box to support their teammates. The women’s and ice dance short-program portions of the team event are on Feb. 11.

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