Nathan Chen Struggles in Olympic Figure Skating Debut

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Nathan Chen reeled off four quadruple jumps in a practice before dawn Friday, so he couldn’t blame the unusually early start time for the men’s figure skating team event for what happened next.

Chen, an American teenager expected to contend later for the men’s singles crown, got off to a rough start in his Olympic debut in the short program of the team event.

Skating to Benjamin Clementine’s “Nemesis,” Chen, 18, struggled with the jumps that usually lift him above the competition. His opening quadruple flip was shaky, he turned his second quad into a double and he fell on a triple axel on his way to a score of 80.61, leaving the team initially in fourth place.

Obviously not what I wanted to do on my first Olympic run,” Chen said, adding, “All I can do is try to analyze what I did wrong and just let it go and move on.”

After the pairs short program, the American team moved up to second place behind Canada and ahead of Japan and a team made up of Russian athletes allowed to compete despite their country being nominally banned over a state-backed doping scheme.

Chen, whose jumping ability and Olympic medal prospectsfigured in NBC’s push to hold figure skating in the mornings local time so it could be viewed in prime time in the United States, said he was “a little too excited” and “got ahead of himself.”

Canada’s Chan, a three-time Olympian who will try to improve upon his silver-medal showing in the 2014 Games in Sochi in the men’s individual event, expressed sympathy for Chen, saying it was normal to not have a great skate.

“It’s part of the experience, part of the Olympics,” he said.

Chan and Chen, who both skated in the second group of five, occupy opposite ends of the competitive spectrum. Chan, 27, won the first of three consecutive world championships in 2011 when Chen was 11 years old and one year removed from a championship in the novice men’s event at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships.

Chen’s first Olympics will be the last for Chan, who told Canadian reporters earlier in the week that his goal was to exit the ice feeling “really proud” of his performance. He said he had never skated a clean program in the Olympics and would like to rectify that before he retires. Chan did not achieve his goal on Friday, falling on a quadruple toe and triple axel.

Chan said the early start threw him off a little. “You have to take that into account,” he said.

But Chen, the reigning two-time U.S. men’s champion, gave himself no such out. He said he was prepared to skate well and was disappointed that he let his teammates down. “I need to just recalculate everything in my head and do a better job,” he said.

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