For Team USA’s Nathan Chen, “blood, sweat, tears” led to Olympic gold

By Coy Wire, Nectar Gan and Simone McCarthy, CNN

When Team USA’s Nathan Chen ran with a flawless performance to his first Olympic gold medal in Beijing on Thursday, it was the culmination of a years-long dream for the first-generation American, a native of Salt Lake City.

In an interview with CNN the day after winning gold at the Beijing Winter Games, Chen said it was “hard to put into words” what his victory felt like.

“Many years of work. A lot of people support me, a lot – I know it’s cliché – but blood, sweat and tears, (over) just many, many years,” said the 22-year-old, whose energetic routine put him well above the competition in the long program.

Chen was quick to thank his mother for his success, thanking her in an Instagram post that featured a photo of Chen as a little boy in his mother’s arms, clutching a gold medal with a red, white and blue ribbon.

In his interview with CNN, Chen called his mother, Hetty Wang, the “hardest working person I’ve ever met.” He said their support – including helping them navigate the family’s financial challenges – made his career possible.

He recalled how, when he was about 10, she found a way for Chen to work with a coach in California while the family lived hundreds of miles away in Salt Lake City, Utah.

“We weren’t really in a great financial position to move to California…(and) Ice Age is significantly cheaper in Salt Lake than it is in California.” But she still buckled up as many dollars as she could and drove me from Utah to California and California back to Utah over and over again,” Chen said.

“Any time of day, whether it’s 3 a.m., she would just chug along in the car and take me to my workouts, and it was just unreal,” he said.

Chen also attributes his own work ethic and genuine love for his sport to his mother’s parenting style – which he felt didn’t fit the “tiger mom” cliché.

“It was a mixture of business and fun. She has a very high standard for all of us. But within that standard, she wants us to enjoy what we’re doing,” Chen said, referring to himself and his four siblings.

“I think that balance has allowed me to love the sport of figure skating as much as I do now, but still be able to achieve the goals I set out to do,” he said.

Chen told reporters Thursday that his win had special meaning because it took place in Beijing — the city where his mother grew up and where his parents met.

Chen’s win also came as a redemption after a disappointing result in PyeongChang at the 2018 Winter Games, when he finished fifth in the individual competition and took bronze in the team competition.

Going beyond that achievement has been a driver in these Olympics, Chen said.

“I really wanted to get that over with. I wanted to be able to have two short programs that I’m very proud and fulfilled in and I’m really glad I was able to have that experience here. It was a dream of mine to make it to this stage and I never really thought it would actually be possible,” he said.

In the four years since, Chen’s record has given him reason for optimism. He clinched three straight world championships and sealed a sixth straight US title to come to Beijing as a favorite.

But Chen still emphasized that managing emotions – keeping yourself “calm and collected” – is an essential part of looking your best on the ice.

“I try not to let emotions get the best of me because I feel like I have the best control over what I’m doing on the ice when I’m in a cool, calm and collected state of mind,” he said.

“Of course I get emotional and I think that’s part of sport too. Sometimes you can let emotions get the better of you (and it actually helps) as long as you find a way to get back to where you need to be.”

But Chen showed no nerves as he slid across the ice on Thursday, the US favorite to win gold after setting a new world record in the short program two days earlier. He ran a total of five quad jumps – a natural for a skater nicknamed the Quad King – to a mix that included Elton John’s Rocket Man.

Chen later received a nod from the legendary British singer-songwriter, with John posts on Twitter his congratulations to the skater “for winning gold at Rocket Man”.

Chen also spoke about missing the opportunity to be on the Olympic podium after his team won silver in Monday’s figure skating event.

Team USA won silver in the event after being defeated by the Russian Olympic Committee (ROC). However, Tuesday’s medal ceremony was postponed over a failed drug test scandal involving Russian skater Kamila Valieva.

“The medal ceremony is definitely a very special part of the Olympics and for those who should get a medal, I really hope they make it. Whatever happens happens, but I hope we’ll have this opportunity to share that as a team,” Chen told CNN.

“There are certainly a lot of variables that come into play, but at the end of the day I can only really control how much I can do. And of course, as an athlete, you want to have as fair a playing field as possible,” Chen said when asked about the case.

As for next after realizing his Olympic dream, Chen said he’s looking forward to returning to his undergraduate studies at Yale University, where he’s pursuing a degree in statistics and data science — a program he took a break from to pursue himself to prepare games.

“Having spent so much of my life pursuing this passion of skating, I haven’t really had the opportunity to explore as much outside of the sport as I would like. I’m looking forward to going back to college and seeing what else the world has in store for me and trying to find passions outside of skating,” he said.

And while he said his passion for skating remains, “it will be decided in the near future” what he will do with his skating career.

“Right now, I’m just happy in this moment,” he said.

The CNN Wire
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