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SLC Olympian May Understand Pressure Felt By Simone Biles More Than Most

GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA - FEBRUARY 17: Nathan Chen of the United States competes during the Men's Single Free Program on day eight of the PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at Gangneung Ice Arena on February 17, 2018 in Gangneung, South Korea. (Photo by Jamie Squire/Getty Images)

TOKYO – Most people will never know the pressure Olympic athletes are under to perform but Nathan Chen does.

Similar to gymnast Simone Biles, Chen was the ‘face’ of Team USA in the months leading up to the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics. Everyone thought he would easily win the gold in men’s figure skating. He’d won nearly every competition leading up to the games with moves no one else could do. But when the time came for his short program Chen fell and stumbled several times. Not only did he miss out on gold he didn’t even medal.

“I think going into 2018 I had the perspective of being like, ‘I’m there to win. I have this opportunity to win and that’s it,’ And it didn’t really turn out that way, you know?” he told me over Zoom recently.

Maybe it was the pressure to succeed at a high level most people will never understand. Or maybe it was the marketing, branding, and commercialization of his skating. Whatever it was, Chen remembers feeling the mental toll.

“Last Olympics I was stressed out the entire time,” he said. “I did not enjoy the experience. Of course it’s the Olympics so I tried to remind myself, ‘This is such a cool time,’ but I really couldn’t get over the fact that it was such a stressful moment.”

In his next skate, the free skate, Chen was flawless.

Since 2018 he’s won every skating championship he’s entered. Now, with about six months until the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics, Chen says he’s going in with a different frame of mind.  One that allows him to be human and to have fun.

“Ultimately, when I’m happy and positive things end up going a lot better and more in my favor,” he told me, “So that’s sort of my attitude going into these games. And I’m really looking forward to it. It’s such an interesting experience.”

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