Nathan Chen has accomplished just about everything that one can accomplish in the sport of figure skating.
Six consecutive national championships, the most since two-time Olympic champion Dick Button in the 1940s and ’50s.
Three consecutive world championships, the best run by an American since Scott Hamilton in the early ’80s.
Nearly four years with only a single defeat, a run that includes three consecutive wins at the Grand Prix Final.
The 22-year-old Chen blew his chance four years ago in Pyeongchang, when an unusually poor short program cost him a chance at a medal; he rallied to finish fifth. But he’s about to get another shot next month in Beijing, when Chen goes toe-to-toe with two-time defending gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu and a stacked field at historic Capital Indoor Stadium.
“Every season my goal is to keep improving,” Chen said after shattering his personal-best score at nationals last week. “I’m looking forward to going back and working on whatever goals I have for the Games. I’m just enjoying this moment.”
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The showdown between Chen and Hanyu will be the highlight of the entire Olympic program.
The American comes armed with an array of quadruple jumps that rival anyone in the world, while his artistry takes him beyond being just an athlete to being a bona fide performer. The biggest question surrounding Chen is what programs he’ll unveil in Beijing — the programs he used with mixed results earlier in the season or the programs he used at nationals, a short to “La Boheme” and an Elton John medley for his free skate that he used during the 2019-20 season.
Hanyu withdrew from both of his Grand Prix assignments because an injured right ankle, but he dazzled last month in winning the Japanese championship. His key to victory could rest in becoming the first skater ever to land the quadruple axel — a jump that involves 4 1/2 rotations that he has landed in practice.
“Beijing is an extension of everything I’m doing,” Hanyu said, “and I know I just might have to go all in now.”
Others to watch in the men’s competition include Shoma Uno, the reigning Olympic silver medallist who won the NHK Trophy last fall; Vincent Zhou, the American who beat Chen at Skate America and was second to Uno at the NHK Trophy; and the Russian star Mikhail Kolyada, who finished second at his two Grand Prix assignments this season.
Canada’s entries in the competition include Keegan Messing and Roman Sadovsky.