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Chen predicted he would make the Olympic team eight years ago, and now he's one of the favorites

Helene Elliott, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Olympics

Chen said he doesn't follow what his rivals are doing and instead immerses himself in his own task. It will be a big one. Zhou, whose approach for Pyeongchang is to gain experience for a medal run in 2022, sees the enormous burden Chen carries. "I don't feel the same pressure that I would if I were expected to medal," Zhou said. "I can't imagine the pressure on Nathan. Absolutely insane."

Chen, who's modest enough to still marvel at seeing his image on Corn Flakes boxes, seems to be handling the stress well. He lives near the beach and finds the shore a good place to escape the daily grind, but he truly enjoys practices. He and Rippon, as well as U.S women's Olympic alternates Ashley Wagner and Mariah Bell, often are on the ice at the same time with coach Rafael Arutunian, a unique setup. Elite-level competitors usually practice at separate sessions, but these skaters thrive on being together.

"I've seen drama happen between a lot of other groups, especially when they're that close in competition, but we've never had anything like that. Never had any bad situations occur," Chen said. "We've always been very positive and definitely helped motivate each other."

Chen recalled he began trying quadruple jumps when he was 11 or 12 and became discouraged when things didn't go well. "I would fall really, really hard and I kind of got scared of it. I didn't even really want to attempt it," he said. But he knew he'd need a quad to be competitive, and he wanted to do a quadruple toe loop like those done by Olympic champions Evgeny Plushenko and Alexei Yagudin. He began landing them regularly when he was 14 or 15. Now, doing them is largely muscle memory.

He's in the air for only about three-quarters of a second and lands with enough force to jar his joints but it's still Nirvana to him. "If the jump is perfect, you come out and you feel like you took a three-pointer in basketball or doing the perfect thing in whatever your sport is," he said. "You just get that adrenaline rush, a sense of satisfaction, like you want to do it again and again."

Getting the level of his artistry closer to the extraordinarily high level of his jumps is his biggest challenge. Don't put it past him, though. That 10-year-old who predicted he'd compete in the 2018 Olympics lives on in his soul and his resolve.

 

"I've been working on it a lot, trying to find the artistic balance, trying to find purpose in my movement, combined with the jumps," he said. "It's very difficult to combine the two, but at the same time I believe that given a little bit more time, I think we will find that balance."

(c)2018 Los Angeles Times

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