Nathan Chen’s fire still burns thanks to his mother and others

After Nathan Chen had impressed a panel of determine skating judges on the Beijing Olympics final February by performing a vibrant and difficult free skate program that lifted him above a formidable discipline and secured his long-awaited gold medal, he needed to face his hardest decide:

His mom.

Beijing-born Hetty Chen, who cleaned homes and labored as a medical interpreter to finance his determine skating profession and the pursuits of her 4 older children, had advocated for him. Coached him. Protected him, too, although her thrifty buy of white hockey skates as a substitute of the usual black wasn’t a success.

She additionally had a approach of protecting him grounded that allowed him to soar, and he considered her within the moments earlier than he turned the primary Asian-American man to win an Olympic singles determine skating gold medal.

Skating to Elton John’s “Rocket Man,” Chen started his three-jump mixture with a quadruple toe loop however didn’t have sufficient momentum to complete with a triple flip. As a substitute, he ended with a single flip. He recovered rapidly, and shortly realized he would win. Even so, as he mentioned in his latest memoir, “One Soar at a Time,” he anticipated to listen to about his misstep. “Ma goes to be upset about that toe-flip,” he wrote.

After he attended a information convention and underwent drug testing, he spoke to Hetty and his household. “Seconds into the decision, she requested me, ‘What occurred with the quad toe-triple flip? Why did you make that mistake?’ ” he wrote. “That was precisely her.”

He wouldn’t have it another approach. “It doesn’t matter what I accomplish, if there’s issues that may be higher she’ll positively ensure I learn about it,” Chen mentioned final week between lessons at Yale, the place he has a 12 months and a half remaining on his path to a level in statistics and knowledge science.

Chen collaborated on the ebook with TIME author Alice Park, typing his ideas right into a shared doc between stops on the Stars on Ice tour final summer season. He relied on Hetty, his siblings and his pals to verify his reminiscences and fill in some blanks about his childhood in Salt Lake Metropolis.

He remembers being impressed whereas skating in a rink that was a apply venue for the 2002 Salt Lake Metropolis Video games. However he didn’t recall posing for a photograph along with his two brothers in entrance of Rice-Eccles Stadium, the place the Olympic flame had burned, standing close to an indication with the Video games motto, “Mild the fireplace inside.” He wrote, “As I look again, that is most likely the place my Olympic journey actually started.”

Hetty additionally informed him in regards to the day he stood close to the door of his rink and sang “The Star-Spangled Banner,” as he had seen swimmer Michael Phelps do throughout a medal ceremony on the 2004 Summer time Olympics. It made good sense to 5-year-old Nathan. He was pretending he had received a gold medal and needed to apply the anthem.

“She was positively very concerned in serving to me write that ebook by way of whether or not the tales had been appropriate from her perspective as effectively,” Chen mentioned. “It was type of cool [to] look by way of all these bits and items and attempt to accumulate them right into a cohesive story. It was a really reflective course of for me.”

The ebook, which honors his heritage by introducing every chapter with a Chinese language proverb, has a matter-of-fact tone. Nevertheless it deserves excessive scores for trustworthy insights from Chen, who delves into what it took for him to succeed in the highest of the determine skating world and describes the sacrifices made by his household. He’s additionally frank about his implosion on the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, the place he felt paralyzed by grand expectations.

Nathan Chen, of america, competes within the males’s free skate program throughout the determine skating occasion on the 2022 Winter Olympics on Feb. 10, 2022, in Beijing.

(Natacha Pisarenko / Related Press)

As a child he competed in hockey and gymnastics and danced with a ballet firm, however his determine skating expertise stood above all. “I thrived on the sensation of energy coming from zipping silently throughout a pristine, freshly lower sheet of ice,” he wrote. Recognizing his potential, his mother and father drove him to Lake Arrowhead, amongst different spots, for one of the best teaching and amenities. They discovered sponsors and benefited from grants from a basis established by Michael Weiss, a former U.S. champion who helps fund skaters in a forbiddingly costly sport.

Chen received his first U.S. title in 2010, on the novice stage and received his first of six straight senior stage championships in 2017. He and defending champion Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu had been co-favorites on the 2018 Olympics, however Chen couldn’t management his nerves and dread. “I noticed the rings and I froze,” he mentioned of the Olympic image. He stumbled to 17th within the quick program. Free of stress, he carried out a lights-out free skate and climbed to fifth. He received the primary of his three world championships in 2018.

He enrolled at Yale, planning to review and compete, however he needed to modify when the COVID-19 pandemic hit in 2020. He was lucky to apply at Nice Park Ice in Irvine, the place security protocols had been rigorously maintained for him, coach Rafael Arutunian and different elite skaters. He expanded his group so as to add a psychological coach, who taught him visualizing success would assist him dwell it. A world-record rating within the quick program validated that at Beijing and arrange his gold-medal triumph. “That monkey had been on my again for therefore lengthy,” he wrote.

Chen has since collaborated on an image ebook, “Wei Skates On,” because of be revealed subsequent month. It’s a few fictional Chinese language-American boy who finds inspiration in skating, with the assistance of his mom. “I wished it to be another person. However I clearly have items of myself in it,” he mentioned.

The U.S. determine skating championships can be held this week in San Jose however Chen received’t be there; he has competed yearly beginning in 2010. “There’s issues I actually love and miss,” he mentioned of competing.

He hasn’t closed the door on making an attempt a gold-medal repeat on the 2026 Cortina-Milano Olympics. “Nothing in any respect has been finalized. Nor do I feel I really want to proper now,” he mentioned. “I’ve a whole lot of issues that I’m engaged with but it surely’s not one thing that I’m like, ‘For positive, I don’t need to do this ever once more.’ I need to preserve the choice and simply see how my physique is doing, how my thoughts is doing, how my initiatives are doing.”

His hearth nonetheless burns. Thank his mom — and him — for no matter that fireside would possibly encourage him to do.