Figure skating: Salt Lake City’s Nathan Chen is the man to beat at world championships in Helsinki

First Published      Last Updated Mar 29 2017 05:53 pm

Skating » SLC native has leapt past challengers.

Among those who thought the technical bar in men's skating couldn't go higher after the 2014 Olympics was Patrick Chan. Then along came Salt Lake City's Nathan Chen and his five quadruple jumps in a free skate program.

Chan and everyone else had to re-evaluate — which flatters Chen, the U.S. and Four Continents champion and likely the guy to beat at the world championships, which starts Thursday morning for the men with the short program.

"It's cool to be putting myself in a state where I can bring the best out of all the other competitors," the 17-year-old Chen said before this week's worlds in Helsinki. "I know we all want to win, and I think to technically put myself out there so other people want to push will keep pushing me in the future."

Chan certainly has noticed. The three-time world champion from Canada and silver medalist at the Sochi Games saw it on tape when watching the performances of Chen, Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and others after Four Continents.

"I was not expecting that. I thought Yuzu in 14 in Sochi was really pushing the limit and hitting that limit," Chan said. "But that has been proven wrong by Nathan, and not only Nathan but by future skaters to come.

"We are entering a very exciting period in men's figure skating, a period where the pro is excitement of all these quads being completed. But the con is the mystery of what is going to be the byproduct of pushing the limit technically and pushing the body to the limit when it comes to torque and joint pressure and all these different scientific possibilities. That is something we can only find in three or four years from now, what kind of damage, or no damage, that we are doing to our bodies."

Stretching the parameters seems like a natural approach during the season before an Olympics. These worlds will determine how many spots at the Pyeongyang Games go to each country, and will put certain skaters front and center in the minds of judges.

Chen is a little bit in awe of it all. He's new to the senior ranks, and to make such a meteoric rise is noteworthy. Of course, when you're leaping to the roof with all those four-revolution jumps, you will draw plenty of headlines and be tagged a favorite. Those expectations, in turn, can cause plenty of distractions.

For Chen, the challenge is to avoid anything that saps his concentration and energy.

"At this moment, it's definitely motivational, but something I don't want to think too much about," said Chen, who had to deal with boot problems in the buildup to Helsinki. "I don't want to add any negative pressure, although this is not really negative pressure. Worlds is the next thing for me, so that is my next focus."

Two-time defending world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain also recognizes the challenges, not just this week but over the next 10 months leading to South Korea.

"It is still another competition in the season, of course, the most important one," Fernandez said. "These worlds are the qualifying event for the next Olympic Games and that's why they are more important than others.

"It depends on every athlete. In my case, I try to face every competition one at a time. The Olympic Games are always on your mind, but I try not to let it affect my training and competitions.

"Right now, there's a lot of talented male skaters capable of winning a medal at this world championships, although there are skaters who have been more consistent during the season. Yuzuru, Nathan, Patrick, Shoma Uno, Boyang Jin and me, I will say, are the skaters that will be fighting for the medals. But there are only three medals, so it will be an interesting competition full of talent."

And full of quads.