Figure skater Nathan Chen sets world-record in short program, moving one step closer to Olympic gold

Chen erased memories of his Pyeongchang struggles, shattering an Olympic record in Beijing

Beijing • 2018? That’s ancient history.

Nathan Chen blotted out any memory of his disastrous short program in the Pyeongchang Olympics on Tuesday when he stormed the ice at Capital Indoor Arena in Beijing to win the short program portion of the men’s singles event with the sport’s all-time highest score of 113.97.

Chen famously stumbled through the same segment of the event four years ago, eventually finishing 17th and ruining any chance he had of securing a medal. The Salt Lake City native has been asked about that experience ad nauseam since then. And if his fist pump after he put down his final toe pick is any indication, he’s thrilled to close the book on that chapter in his life.

“I almost never do stuff like that,” Chen said of the gesture. “I guess it is indicative of just how I felt in that moment. I’m very happy.”

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nathan Chen reacts after his figure skating men’s short program at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022. Chen set the record for highest point total in a men’s short program with a score of 113.97.

He now takes that sensation, rather than the burning disappointment from 2018, into Thursday’s free skate, where he will have the opportunity to claim the elusive gold medal. His biggest nemesis for that hardware, though, may not be who the world expected.

Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, as the two-time defending gold medalist, had been built up as Chen’s biggest obstacle to gold — well, other than ghosts of South Korea. But two other Japanese skaters, Yuma Kagiyama and defending silver medalist Shoma Uno, introduced themselves as contenders Tuesday.

Skating in the fourth group and following Hanyu, Uno came out of the shadows to seize a spotlight in this Olympic drama.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Japan’s Shoma Uno competes in the figure skating men’s short program at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022.

After Hanyu turned in a beautiful but not technically seamless program that put him second behind Russia’s Evengi Semenenko, Uno turned in his best performance of the season. He rocketed into the top spot with a score of 105.9 — more than five points better than Semenenko — and one group to go.

That fifth and final group contained Chen and Kagiyama.

Kagiyama went first, skating one of the more upbeat programs of the event to Michael Buble’s “When You’re Smiling.” Incorporating two quad jumps, he registered a score of 108.12.

Next up: Chen. The American was looking dangerous after wiping some of that sting of 2018 away during the team event Friday where he recorded the second-highest short program score in history, a 111.71, on the way to helping the Americans to a silver medal. Returning to the ice with the same program, set to Charles Aznavour’s version of “La Boheme,” which first brought him success in 2019, Chen took skating to another level.

Uno said he isn’t sure it’s a level he can rise to.

“Nathan Chen had a perfect performance,” he said through a translator. “For any athlete, it would be extremely difficult or impossible to win over him. I personally am not there yet, to [beat] Nathan Chen. I will have to practice for years so I will be able to compete at the level that Nathan Chen is competing at.”

Chen, however, said he isn’t counting out any of the other skaters — not even Hanyu, whose short program stumble means he won’t be part of the final group in the free skate.

(Trent Nelson | The Salt Lake Tribune) Nathan Chen competes in the figure skating men’s short program at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing on Tuesday, Feb. 8, 2022.

“None of these competitors are people you should take for granted or, you know, people that you think, ‘Oh, they’re out of the running,’” Chen said. “Every single person is still very, very much in the running.”

American Jason Brown will also take the ice with the final group in the free skate after placing sixth in the short program with a score of 97.24. The other two in that group will be Junhwan Cha of South Korea (fourth, 99.51) and Morisi Kvitelashvili of Georgia (fifth, 97.98).