Beijing • Nathan Chen put many questions to bed this week when he dominated the Olympic men’s figure skating event at the 2022 Olympics, securing his first gold medal.
Could he come back from the disappointment of failing to medal in Pyeongchang 2018? Undoubtedly.
Is he working on a quadruple axel, the only quad jump never to be performed in competition? Not likely.
Is he the best male figure skater in the world? If not, he’s at least among the top two.
The question Chen most hoped to have clarity on once the curtain fell on his free skate program, however, remains unanswered:
What’s next for Nathan Chen?
“I was kind of assuming that after I finished the free, I would have a much clearer idea,” the Salt Lake City native said. “But I actually don’t, and that makes it even less clear what I want to do.”
Chen ticked a lot of career tasks off his to-do list over the past week. In addition to winning the gold medal — which he’d been dreaming about since watching the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City as a 3-year old — he shook off the stink of 2018, set the short-program world record and set the Olympic combined score record. In addition, he became the seventh American man to win gold and, after taking silver in the team event, just the fourth American overall and first male to earn three Olympic medals.
But wait, there’s more!
The gold was the only major competition Chen hadn’t won in his six years competing at the senior level. He had three world titles (2018, ‘19, ‘21), three Grand Prix finals senior championships and six straight national titles. Plus, he holds the record for number of quadruple jumps in a program – eight at worlds in 2018 — and the nickname “Quad King.”
Chen concedes no big prizes remain for him to claim in the sport.
“I’ve mostly accomplished all the goals that I’ve wanted to accomplish in skating,” he said. “And, you know, I’m already very happy and satisfied with my career. So. It’s hard to say whether or not I will want to continue.”
One factor that might make a difference is the status of his coach, Rafael Arutyunyan. in an interview after Chen’s free skate, Arutyunyan also sounded as though he is in the dusk of his career.
“I ran my last 100 yards on my journey in figure skating, I think,” he said. “I did everything, I think. I can take a breath and say, ‘I’m done. I’m OK. I finished.’”
A United States Figure Skating media liaison later clarified that the coach was expressing relief at reaching the end of the gold-medal journey, not walking away from the sport.
After he participates in the Olympic exhibition later in the Games and the Skate America tour this summer, Chen will be walking away from skating for at least a little while.
In the aftermath of the 2018 Games, where he struggled in both the team and individual short programs and failed to bring home an individual medal, Chen began making a concerted effort to diversify his life. He enrolled at Yale in the fall of 2018 and attended for two years, balancing classes with training, before taking time off to focus on the Beijing Olympics. He plans to return this fall. He does not expect to train, however, as the statistics and data science student dedicates his focus to his upper-level classes.
Having not been hit with an epiphany during his Olympic experience, Chen said he now hopes his return to school will result in some revelations. He might enjoy just being a college kid. Or, he might miss competing and want to make one last run at what seems to be the only record he doesn’t own — Dick Button’s seven national championships.
Well, there is one more thing that might beckon Chen back to competition: He has a stretch goal of skating in the 2030 Olympics if they are awarded to Salt Lake City. Chen is on the athletes’ commission for the group that is trying to bring the Winter Games back to Utah, but said he would consider trying to compete.
“I tell all of my friends, like, how cool would it be if I could cap off my career back in the place that I started?” he said. “But that being said, I’ll be 30 years old and I might have, like, knee replacements by then. But yeah, I mean, it would be cool.”
Maybe it’s not that far-fetched. Just look, said Team USA skater Jason Brown, at all the seemingly impossible things Chen has already accomplished.
“I think there is just nothing he hasn’t done,” Brown said, “and nothing that I think he can’t do.”