Courtesy of International Skating Union

Nathan Chen ’23 is at the top of the figure skating world. 

After a breathtaking free skate performance on Saturday, Chen seized his third consecutive world title at the 2021 World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden. With a final total score of 320.88, Chen surged back to recover from a fall during the short program on Thursday, beating Japanese silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama by 29.11 points. Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, who is also from Japan, rounded out the podium. 

“It’s amazing,” Chen told the media after the medal ceremony. “The fact that I’m able to be here at this world championship after that unprecedented year … I’m very elated right now.”

With a final total score of 320.88, Chen beat Japanese silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama and bronze medalist Yuzuru Hanyu on Saturday. (Photo: Courtesy of International Skating Union)

The competition was not entirely smooth sailing for the five-time U.S. national champion. The 26-year-old Hanyu was exceptional on Thursday, finishing the short program in first place. In a show-stealing performance to Robbie Williams’ rock number “Let Me Entertain You,” the judges were certainly left entertained, as they awarded the five-time Japanese national champion the highest program components score — which evaluates a skater’s artistry — in the short program.

Meanwhile, Chen started off in one of the worst ways possible, falling on his first jump — a quadruple Lutz — during his short program. Prior to that miscue, Chen had not fallen in a competition since the 2018 Grand Prix Final, according to NBC Sports. He entered the free skate on Saturday in third place, 8.13 points behind Hanyu. 

“As soon as I took off, I was like ‘Oh, this is not going well, this isn’t the right takeoff,’” Chen said on Thursday. “Just tried to bail out as best as I could without wasting too much energy.”

On Saturday, Chen looked to be a man on a mission. He led off his free skate — set to a medley of music by American composer Philip Glass — with the same jump he missed on Thursday: the quad Lutz, landing it perfectly. Chen then attacked his quad flip-triple toe combination with vivacity, and it seemed that, for one Saturday afternoon in Stockholm, there was nothing that could stop him.

Chen led off his free skate with the same jump he missed during Thursday’s short program, the quad Lutz, and landed it perfectly. (Photo: Courtesy of International Skating Union)

Figure skating analyst Jackie Wong took to Twitter shortly after Chen’s tour de force to put into words what Chen had just shown the world.

“No doubt — that was the best program Nathan Chen has ever skated,” Wong tweeted. “Hands down.” 

Chen earned 222.03 points in the free skate, fewer than three points shy of his own world record. Hanyu, on the other hand, made a few errors of his own on Saturday, leading to an underwhelming fourth-best score in the free skate and a third-place finish overall.

But while all of the attention was on Chen and Hanyu battling for a gold medal at Worlds, 17-year-old Yuma Kagiyama, in his senior World Championship debut, put together two strong performances en route to a silver medal. His father and three-time Japanese champion Masakazu Kagiyama coaches the young skater.

“I’m very happy,” Kagiyama said through an interpreter about placing second at his inaugural senior Worlds.  “Being here, I wanted to make sure I landed on the podium. That’s what I’ve trained for. And I guess my work has paid off.”

Stockholm’s 2021 World Figure Skating Championships is the last major individual event of the figure skating season, which typically runs from fall through spring. And with the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics less than 11 months away, the skaters’ focus shifts towards preparing for future events. Hanyu and Kagiyama both stated their desire to get back to practicing as soon as they get home. Hanyu specified that he was eager to continue working on his quad Axel.

A quadruple Axel — a jump that involves four-and-a-half rotations of the body — has never been accomplished in the history of the sport.

“I want to be the very first person to land it cleanly in a competition,” Hanyu said through an interpreter.

Chen earned 222.03 points in the free skate, less than three points shy of his own world record. (Photo: Courtesy of International Skating Union)

Chen, who has not lost an individual event since his fifth-place finish at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics, emphasized that with each event the level of competition is continually increasing. He said he looks forward to challenging himself heading into the Olympic season. Then, he gestured to his left, to where Hanyu was sitting. 

“And this guy is going to do a quad Axel, so I need to figure that out too,” Chen quipped.

Even with a Hanyu quad Axel on the horizon, a third consecutive World Championship for the American made one thing clear: At the 2022 Winter Olympics, Nathan Chen is the man to beat.

The 2022 Winter Olympics are set to take place in Beijing from Feb. 4 to Feb. 20 next year.

James Richardson | james.richardson@yale.edu 

JAMES RICHARDSON
James Richardson covers men's basketball, squash and athletic administration. Originally from South Florida, he is a first year in Jonathan Edwards College.