Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

For the first time since the 2018 Winter Olympics, a senior-level men’s figure skating competition in which Nathan Chen ’24 competed in ended without Chen atop the podium.

Chen finished in third place this past weekend at 2021 Skate America, held for the third consecutive year at the Orleans Arena in Las Vegas, Nevada. Fellow American Vincent Zhou took home the gold medal for his first career Grand Prix win, and Japan’s Shoma Uno finished in second. Chen’s bronze medal marks the end of his 14-event win streak dating back to 2018 — a run which included three World Championships

“It was inevitably going to end,” Chen said of his streak in a Saturday press conference. “I’m proud of what I’ve accomplished in the past, but at this point in time the only thing I can do is move forward. That’s where my mind’s at.”

Prior to this weekend, Chen had four consecutive victories at Skate America, tying Todd Eldredge who won his quartet of Skate America golds from 1994-97. 

In his short program, the Salt Lake City native elected to skate to “Eternity” and “Nemesis” by British artist Benjamin Clementine. Chen fell on his first jump of the evening — an attempted quadruple lutz — and also missed a planned quadruple flip-triple toe combination later in his skate. He finished the night in fourth place with a score of 82.89, 14.54 points behind Zhou, who dazzled in his performance to Josh Groban’s “Vincent (Starry Starry Night)” and earned the top score of the evening with 97.43 points. 

“I’m human, I make mistakes and unfortunately it happened today,” Chen said after his short program. “It happens; just learn from it, grow from it.”

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

Chen’s music choice for this Olympic season is an interesting one. “Nemesis” was also the music Chen used in his short program during the 2017-18 season — including his disastrous performance at the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang that saw him place 17th in the short program. By reviving this music for the 2021-22 season, Chen looks set to take on his Olympic “nemesis” head-on at the 2022 winter games in Beijing. 

The five-time U.S. champion came out of the gates much stronger in his free skate. Skating to a medley of Mozart compositions, Chen landed a quadruple loop to start off his performance. In an attempt to climb back up the standings, Chen attempted a total of six quad jumps in his free skate. He successfully executed four, including one in an electrifying quadruple toe-euler-double flip combination in the latter half of his skate. He earned 186.48 points, bringing his weekend total up to 269.37. 

Zhou’s performance, however, garnered 198.13 points, bringing his score for the weekend up to 295.56 and guaranteeing him a gold medal. 

“I don’t think it’s sank in yet,” Zhou said following his win. “I didn’t really expect this result, but what I did expect of myself was to be as well-prepared and well-trained as I possibly could, and I think just focusing on that every single day at home led to making the seemingly impossible become possible.”

Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating

In an interview with NBC Sports following the competition, Chen said that he felt his fellow competitors were “more prepared” heading into the season-opening competition. 

Last season, due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the Grand Prix season was limited to four events, with contestants geographically tied to certain events based on their home training grounds to limit travel. This season, however, the Grand Prix slate has returned to its usual six events followed by the Grand Prix Final. The travel restrictions have also been lifted, which allowed international skaters such as Uno to compete in Las Vegas. 

“I am very honored that I ended up second because it’s a really high level competition and I think it’s amazing and I am really aware of that,” Uno said. “But at the same time, when I think about my goals and what I am aiming to attain, I face the reality that I am not there yet.”

Chen will have an opportunity to bounce back quickly from the rare loss when he competes in the 2021 Skate Canada International from Oct. 29 to 31. The event — which will be held in the Doug Mitchell Thunderbird Sports Centre in Vancouver — is the second event of the Grand Prix season.

The six Grand Prix events include Skate America and Skate Canada, as well as the Gran Premio d’Italia in Turin, the NHK Trophy in Tokyo, the Internationaux de France in Grenoble and the Rostelecom Cup in Sochi. The 2021-22 Grand Prix Final will be held in Osaka, Japan. 

Clarification, Oct. 29: A previous version of this article stated that 2021 Skate America was the first senior-level men’s figure skating competition since the 2018 Winter Olympics in which Chen did not place first. However, senior-level men’s competitions that Chen did not participate in during that span concluded with a different first-place finisher.

James Richardson is a former staff reporter. He previously covered athletic administration, men's basketball and squash.