Nathan Chen's golden day: On Elton John, his Olympic 'power pose' and that mid-program smile

The Olympic champion in men's figure skating is soaking up his triumphant moment at Beijing 2022 and says it's 'just nuts' musician Elton John 'even knows I exist' after skating to his music.

By Nick McCarvel

Nathan Chen may be a singles figure skater, but what about an Olympic-sized duet with Sir Elton John?

The Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022 champion is in celebratory mode a day after his triumph to become the seventh U.S. man to claim the Olympic crown, but he didn't expect accolades from the iconic British musician, whose music he skated to in his winning free skate program.

“Congratulations Nathan Chen for winning gold skating to “Rocket Man” in Beijing,” it read, simply.

"I'm not actually using social media right now, so my agent texted me the Elton John tweet, and it's just nuts to think that he even knows I exist," a beaming Chen told Olympics.com exclusively. "Sir Elton John?! That's amazing."

He continued: "And then I showed it to [training partner] Mariah Bell and her suite mates, and everyone was screaming. It was really special."

Chen is quite the musician himself, having played piano as a child and more recently, the guitar. He brought his electric guitar to Beijing with him, something he's said has been the perfect distraction in the lead-up to his golden effort.

But what about a jam session with Sir John himself?

"I mean, I would be... I don't know if I'd be able to keep up with his talent," a smiling Chen said. "But even to be able to meet him in person would be the most special."

"Special" only begins to describe what Chen, a 22-year-old and three-time reigning world champion, was able to produce over two days of the men's singles event at the Capital Indoor Stadium here.

Four years after imploding for a fifth-place finish at PyeongChang 2018, Chen set a world record in the short program and didn't hesitate taking the pole position into the free skate, where he skated in the most pressurized of positions: Last.

But if the men's free skate was the Olympic concert we all came to see, Chen was the encore, delivering the "Rocketman"-led Elton John medley as a golden encore, claiming the crown that many in the sport thought he had deserved.

But in the end he earned it his way.

"Certainly it's been a pretty long journey, and of course includes a lot of people that have supported me throughout my career," Chen told reporters in Beijing later. "So to be able to have a moment like this and be able to reflect back on all the people that have helped me throughout my time in skating means a lot."

Striking a golden 'power pose'

One of those aforementioned people is the sports psychologist that Chen has been working with for nearly a year now, tasked with helping him seize the moment without seizing up.

As he took to the ice on Thursday (10 February) for his free skate, he was shaken: His Salchow jump, an important part of the program, was shaky in second before his name was called. He was skating to center ice with doubt in his mind.

That's when he tapped into his mental training.

"I was just trying to exude an air of confidence for myself to start," he explained. "Sometimes when you set your mind to do something, even if you don't feel like your body will naturally carry on to that feeling... So [I was] trying to be like, 'All right, have fun, feel confident you can do this. And then breathe.'"

"We call it like a power pose - it gets you into this confident mode," he added. "And even if you don't feel confident, you will be confident."

The confidence - fueled by said power pose - worked.

Chen opened with a nearly 20-point combination, a quadruple flip-triple toe-loop, then another quad flip and that jump he was worried about, the quad Salchow.

Two quads later - a Lutz and then a toe in combination - he broke into a wry smile, tacking on a single flip to that toe, which led to his final jumps: An axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe.

Soon that smirk was a burgeoning grin, and as the re-mixed rap version of "Bennie and the Jets" pumped from the arena, Chen couldn't help himself: His face was golden with belief that he would be Olympic champ.

"After I hit the Lutz I was already really happy, and it was more natural at that point," he said. "I didn't really have to think about forcing myself to smile. I was having a really good time and I was having fun, but I also didn't want to lose track of what I was doing. I certainly had to focus in."

What comes next for Nathan Chen? 'TBD'

Having been on the international figure skating circuit for seven years now - two of which he attended Yale while competing simultaneously - Chen isn't sure what will come next for him.

He isn't even committing to next month's figure skating world championships in Montpellier, France.

"That is TBD right now," he said. "I will think about it a little bit and talk to everyone else on my team and see what their or their feelings are and go from there."

When asked on Thursday immediately after his victory if he would continue to skate into the next quad, Chen said he would head back to school this August having left in the spring of 2020 as the Covid pandemic shut down campus.

Will he continue to skate?

"At this point I have no idea," he said. "I do know that I'm going to go back to school in August. As for skating, I'm going to take some time to think."

That means that his decision of whether or not to defend his Olympic title at Milano Cortina 2026 is a long ways away.

For now, Chen has his gold medal safely clad around his neck. It's one thing he's certain of for the time being.

"It's quite heavy," he said, laughing. "It (all) still feels unreal. You know, as I've said, I just dreamed about this moment for a long time, but I never really actually thought it would be something that could come to fruition. So it still just doesn't feel totally real to have this around my neck."

It, however, is very real.

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