Nathan Chen would not be denied this time.
The 22-year-old American phenom followed up his world record short program with a breathtaking 218.63-point free skate to win the figure skating men's singles competition at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
The performance put to rest memories of a disappointing showing during his first Olympic appearance in 2018, in which he placed fifth. Of course, fifth was quite a feat considering his disastrous short program landed him in 17th after the first day.
These Olympics looked and felt different for Chen since the day he arrived. Tara Lipinski and Johnny Weir said it best on the NBC broadcast, “Chen looked locked in the moment he got to China and there was really never a doubt.”
Despite waiting all night, as the last skater to take the ice, Chen’s free skate performance was electric from the start. The 22-year-old skated to an Elton John medley of “Rocket Man,” “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road,” and “Bennie and the Jets.” He landed three quads to start his program. Then, just as the music swelled, Chen landed a quad lutz, his fourth of the night, and that’s when he seemed destined for gold.
Chen did single what was intended to be a triple flip in combination with a quad toeloop, but it didn’t matter. He won the competition by 22.55 points.
Afterwards, talking to Andrea Joyce, Chen said what everyone knew watching his routine, “I just had a blast out there. I’m so grateful.”
Chen's gold medal is the first by an American man in the singles competition since Evan Lysacek's at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. He is the seventh American man to take home the gold in the event.
The 22-year-old is the third U.S. skater to win gold in the men’s single event at the Olympics after placing fifth the prior Olympics. Scott Hamilton placed fifth in 1980 and won in 1984. And Brian Boitano completed the feat after placing fifth in 1984 and winning gold four years later.
Japan's Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno claimed silver and bronze, respectively, while countryman Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time defending Olympic champion, placed fourth after he was unable to land an attempt at the quadruple axel -- an attempt that was historic in itself, despite the outcome.
As the medalists waited for their victory ceremony, Chen could be seen backstage smiling ear to ear, even through his N95 mask. As he received his plush panda, Chen let out the biggest sigh of relief -- the pressure of the last four years visibly evaporating.
After the ceremony, Chen tried to put into words what he was feeling. “It’s just a whirlwind, everything is happening so fast,” he said, adding, “overall, [I’m] just so happy.”
As the son of Chinese immigrants, it is fitting that his Olympic redemption would come full circle in China.
"It means the world," Chen said afterward. "My mom was born here. It’s amazing to have this opportunity."
For the first time in four years, Chen can go to bed not having to dream about redemption and winning gold. He said it best, "I can’t even describe it, you can’t even imagine what it might feel like but it’s just amazing."