Team USA’s Nathan Chen had the skate of his life in the men’s short program on Monday night in Beijing.
The three-time world champion and 2018 Olympic bronze medalist ended the night in first place and set an Olympic record.
Judges gave the 22-year-old the highest score ever for a short program: 113.97.
The moment — set to “La Bohème” by Charles Aznavour — was poetic for Chen, who was favored to win gold in 2018 at the Pyeongchang games when a disastrous short program cut his dreams short.
After his performance on Monday, he told NBC’s Andrea Joyce that he was “just elated.”
“Last Olympics, both short programs didn’t go the way that I wanted, and finally getting the opportunity to skate the programs the way that I wanted really means a lot,” he said. “I’m just really happy to be here.”
Commentators agreed and quipped that Chen was sending a message with his performance.
“You know what Nathan Chen just said about that performance? You can stop asking me about Pyeongchang,” NBC commentator and former Olympian Tara Lipinski said. “A distant memory, a perfectly clean short program…it was like a French daydream, it suits his style so well.”
“The Nathan I know is optimistic and artistic and easygoing and this taps into all those aspects of his personality and skating, it was spectacular,” she added.
Fellow commentator and former Olympian Johnny Weir replied that it’s like Chen has “ice running through his veins.”
“He approaches every competition with this chill, this swagger, but his reaction at the end of this short program I think was the most telling reaction we’ve ever seen from him in competition,” Weir said. “The pressure on those shoulders, those capable shoulders, but incredible, incredible pressure that he’s dealt with. That performance was a stunner.”
The two noted that Chen’s skating has changed the nature and difficulty of the sport.
“You want to write a manual on the quad, ask Nathan Chen, he’ll teach you,” Lapinski said. Weir explained that Chen’s skating style elevated his entire cohort of male figure skaters, “making the quad lutz and quad flip — the most difficult quads— something that everyone goes for.”
Last week, Chen recorded the second-highest short program score ever while skating in the team event with 111.71 points.
He will next take the ice on Wednesday for the men’s free skate at 8:30 p.m. ET.
Monday night, Weir and Lipinski certainly thought it was likely that Chen will be able to skate to victory later this week.
“He just has to do another performance just like that and he’s an Olympic champion,” Weir concluded.