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Beijing Olympics: Americans ‘Rocket Man’ Chen and ‘Golden Girl’ Kim soar to gold

figure skating men single skating free skating
2022 Beijing Olympics - Figure Skating - Men Single Skating - Free Skating - Capital Indoor Stadium, Beijing, China - February 10, 2022. Nathan Chen of the United States in action. REUTERS/Aleksandra Szmigiel

American Nathan Chen achieved a spectacular redemption when he claimed the men’s figure skating title in dazzling fashion at the Beijing Olympics, completing a four-year journey to the exhilarating tunes of Elton John on Thursday.

The 22-year-old, who left empty-handed after a meltdown in Pyeongchang in 2018, stood by the edge of the rink to soak up the atmosphere during warm-up and then skated carefreely to “Rocket Man” to add to his world record in the short programme for a total of 332.60.

Wearing an orange and purple top decorated with stars in space in a nod to his medley of Elton John songs, Chen displayed power, grace and precision, effortlessly landing his quadruple jumps as he triggered some rare cheering from a usually near-silent crowd.

Japan’s Yuma Kagiyama (310.05) was a distant second and fellow Japanese Shoma Uno (293.00) ended up third, ending up with no possible regrets after ‘Rocket Chen’ landed his fourth quadruple jump.

Olympic Medal Table

Yuzuru Hanyu, who was hoping to win the event for the third time in a row, finished fourth on 283.21 after the Japanese great dropped out of title contention in the short programme.

All the attention was on the Japanese at his long-awaited, delayed arrival in Beijing but the 27-year-old fell out of contention after a disastrous short programme.

He was also looking to become the first skater to land the quadruple Axel in competition but failed to deliver, also falling on a quadruple Salchow.

Chen, coming into the Olympics having been defeated only once since his Pyeongchang setback, at last year’s Skate America, delivered a masterclass to become the first American to win the men’s title since Evan Lysacek in Vancouver in 2010.

Kagiyama, Uno and Hanyu watched in awe as Japan’s double Olympic champion knew he would have to make way for Chen, who exited the ice showing unusual signs of jubilation.

Chen’s smile and gesture brought a welcome respite in an otherwise tense atmosphere at the Capital Indoor Stadium where the buzz was centred on day-old reports – still unconfirmed – that Russian Kamila Valieva, the 15-year-old gold medal favourite in the women’s competition – had tested positive for a banned drug.

snowboard women's snowboard halfpipe final run 3
2022 Beijing Olympics Gold medallist Chloe Kim REUTERS/Mike Blake

 ‘Golden girl’ Kim blows away rivals to retain halfpipe title

American Chloe Kim cemented her position as one of the greats of women’s snowboarding with a commanding performance on Thursday to win halfpipe gold at the Winter Games and successfully defend her 2018 Olympic title.

The 21-year-old set herself apart from rivals in the very first run, earning a top score of 94 by breezily landing 1080s. Spain’s Queralt Castellet could never catch up with Kim and had to settle for silver, while Sena Tomita of Japan won the bronze medal.

Kim, who at 17 became the youngest woman ever to win Olympic gold in snowboarding at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, roared back in style after taking nearly two years off the slopes.

After landing her first run, Kim put her hands on her black helmet and dropped to her knees in the snow, overjoyed to have nailed what she called her “safety run”.

“I just was so proud of myself,” Kim said about her first run, adding she had a terrible practice session where she fell twice going into Thursday’s final that had initially put her in a “weird headspace”.

“I was just like overflowed with emotions when I was able to land it on the first go.”

Given her sizeable lead, Kim then attempted a cab 1260 in her second and third runs but fell both times.

After the last Games, she took time off to focus on her studies and her mental health.

“I think the biggest lesson I’ve learnt from the last Olympics was being as open as possible. It’s unfair to be expected to be perfect,” Kim told reporters at a packed news conference.

Suffering from frustration and burnout, she briefly threw out her gold medal as junk after the 2018 Games but said on Thursday she had no intention of repeating that this time.

After Kim’s high run, Castellet received the next highest score of 90.25 and Tomita earned 88.25.

“I am extremely happy, to be honest. The second place in behind Chloe is incredible. She is an incredible athlete,” Castellet said after the final.

Tomita said she was happy to become the first Japanese woman to win a halfpipe medal.

“Everybody was very aggressive, and in that kind of competitive environment, I got a medal. That has given me a lot of confidence,” she said.

Kim, or “golden girl” as TV commentators called her on Thursday, was joined at the snow park by her friend, Eileen Gu, the Chinese freestyle skier. Gu, wearing a Red Bull helmet and black puffer jacket, cheered Kim on from the finish line.

International Olympic Committee President Thomas Bach also appeared on the sidelines and watched the event.

The course, officially called the Secret Garden Olympic Halfpipe, is more than 200 metres long and 22 metres wide. The inner height of the halfpipe walls is 7 metres.

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