I just wasn’t thinking of the right technical things before the jumps. I was a little bit ahead of myself. —Nathan Chen
PYEONGCHANG, South Korea — The look on Nathan Chen’s face summed up his Olympic debut — disappointment.
“It was the fact that I didn’t do what I wanted to do,” the Salt Lake native said after making three major mistakes in his short program performance Friday morning, his contribution to Team USA’s team event competition. “I’m not going to show that I’m happy and try to fake it if I’m genuinely not. So that’s definitely how I felt. But this is a good experience, and I’m definitely going to learn from it for the next competition.”
Chen scored an 80.61 — a significantly lower score than his season best (104.21 points) — which left the U.S. team in fourth place after the first of five disciplines. Japan’s Shoma Uno scored 103.25 points to lead the team event, while Israel’s Alexei Bychenko scored 88.49. Canadadian veteran Patrick Chan scored 81.66 points.
Immediately after the men’s short program, the team event continued with a pairs skating short program. The American pair of Alexa Scimeca Knierim and Chris Knierim took fourth place in the pairs program.
Following the pairs skating short program, the United States sits in second place in the team event with 14 points, behind Canada at 17. Japan and Olympic athletes from Russia are next with 13.
Chen’s disappointment was understandable, as his usually dynamic short program was marred by a fall and two blown jumps. The unusually early start time of 10 a.m., was mentioned by some skaters as an issue, and nerves and fatigue may have also played small roles, but ultimately Chen said those things were not to blame for his error-ridden Olympic debut.
“I just wasn’t thinking of the right technical things before the jumps,” Chen said. “I was a little bit ahead of myself.”
But his biggest concern wasn’t how his sub-par performance reflected on him.
“Obviously, it’s not what I wanted to do my first Olympic run,” he said, “but I am also upset that I let the rest of the team down. But I’m confident they’ll be able to pull through with good skates.”
While some skaters love the team event, others are less enthusiastic. Chen said he enjoyed it, especially because it offered the 18-year-old valuable experience before he competes individually.
“I’m glad I got the opportunity to come out here, put the programs down, learn from it, but right now, all I can do is try to analyze what I did wrong, and just let it go and move on,” he said. “Honestly, (my nerves) were not too bad. I thought I’d be way more nervous. I thought there would be way more pressure, but honestly I felt way more comfortable, pretty relaxed and ready to go.”
The skaters said they had to be at the rink by 6 a.m. to practice before the 10 a.m. competition. Chen said he went to bed at 7 or 8 p.m. Thursday in anticipation of the early wake-up call.
He said if he had any immediate analysis it was that his excitement caused his timing to be off.
“I was just a little bit ahead of myself,” he said. “I think I was a little too excited.”
The two-time U.S. national champion acknowledged a different energy surrounding this competition, but nothing that should have impacted his performance.
“Ultimately, it kind of just feels like any other skating competition, the way it’s set up,” Chen said. “There isn’t something drastically different. But obviously, the vibe of the Olympics, the idea that you’re at the Olympics, seeing the rings and everything, that’s different.”
Canadian veteran Chan, who won silver in Sochi in 2014 and took fifth when his country hosted the Games in 2010, said Chen is under tremendous pressure of lofty expectations.
“I can’t imagine,” said Chan, who also fell twice during his performance. “Being Canadian, being in Vancouver in 2010, that was a fraction of the type of pressure an American skater has, and the level he can skate with all those quads, he’s handling it really well.”
In fact, with the exception of appearing disappointed immediately after his performance, Chen was his usual matter-of-fact, all-business self as he discussed what happened with a massive hoard of media members.
“Ultimately, my mind is focused on what I did here,” he said, “and what I need to improve on.”
Chan had some advice for the first-time Olympian.
“I hope he knows that it’s very normal not to have a great skate,” the Canadian said. “It’s part of the experience, part of the Olympics. We have a long time before the end of these Games. Just cherish the moment, even if it’s not the best one.”