Ice Network

Bulgogi bites: Chen puts dismal short behind him

Zhou brimming with confidence, plans to try five quads in free skate
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Nathan Chen does not want to let his poor skate in the team event affect his performance in the individual men's competition. -Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - When Nathan Chen practiced Tuesday morning on the main rink at the Gangneung Ice Arena, it was his first time back in the public eye since a thoroughly disappointing short program in the Olympic team event.

After coming off the ice, Chen admitted he had kicked himself over what happened last Friday morning, when he fell once, doubled a planned quad and had negative Grades of Execution on all three jumping passes.

And he also had wasted no time kicking into gear to fix the mistakes.

Upon finishing his team event performance, Chen -- still in his costume -- went to the practice rink, located just below the competition surface, to drill his jumps.

"I wanted to end on a better note, and I did," he said Tuesday. "It was a little disappointing because it was great downstairs and not so great upstairs. Sometimes, it's just like that.

"At the end of the day, that's in the past. You can't really change it. You accept it and use it as motivation and move on."

After his short program, Chen, the two-time U.S. champion, spent a couple of days at a practice site about two hours away. During that time, he did not see his coach, Rafael Arutunian, who was busy in Gangneung preparing Adam Rippon for Monday's team free skate. So Chen went to the boards after many of his jump attempts Tuesday to talk with Arutunian.

"I just filled him in on what my thoughts are on all the jumps," Chen said.

He did a large majority of them flawlessly. A quad lutz-triple toe combination brought spirited applause from Arutunian. It was one of his two successful attempts at that combination and one of three successful quad lutzes.

"Everything is sort of coming along a little better than it was," Chen said. "This is exactly what I want to be feeling at this point in the competition."

Chen, who got a bronze medal in the team event, was planning to move off site again for a day or two before the start of Friday's individual men's event, in which he is a medal contender.

His confidence level?

"Pretty good, actually," he said. "I think I'll be able to pull through for the individual."

In the team short, he was fourth in a field that included just one other strong contender for an individual medal, Japan's Shoma Uno, who beat Chen by 22.64 points.

"My program was not great, but the team definitely had my back," Chen said. "Knowing that through their efforts we were able to clinch a bronze medal was pretty incredible. It inspires you to come back and practice harder."

So did the hundreds of encouraging messages Chen said were on his Instagram account.

"They were telling me to put it behind me," Chen said. "Knowing that after a bad performance people still support me helped a lot.

"I didn't think people would be down on me. I just didn't expect that much support."

- Philip Hersh

Zhou makes entrance confident, well-prepared

On the surface, Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon, who attended a press conference together at PyeongChang's main press center Tuesday, don't have much in common.

Zhou, a Chinese-American, was born Oct. 25, 2000, some 11 years after Rippon. Zhou hails from San Jose, California, the cultural and economic heart of Silicon Valley; Rippon is from Scranton, a blue-collar city in northeast Pennsylvania. Rippon, supremely comfortable with the spotlight, reels off one-liners with ease. Not surprisingly, Zhou is a bit hesitant, still finding his way.

They're chalk and cheese, as one reporter put it.

"As Adam said at the press conference at U.S. nationals, he is the father, and Nathan and I are the children," Zhou said of the three-man U.S. team, which also includes 18-year-old Nathan Chen.

"So [Zhou] was cheese, and now this is chalk," Rippon responded. "Vincent and I were born in different millenniums. I was born in the '80s, gurrl..."

"I remember those days. No electronics," Zhou, a fast learner, rejoined.

But scratch the surface, and they both embody the American dream.

Rippon, the oldest of six children, was raised by a single mother in what he called "lower-middle class" economic circumstances.

"My mom (Kelly Rippon) single-handedly raised me, and I'm at the Olympics. My brother is getting his master's degree in biostatistics at Columbia. I have another brother at law school," Rippon said. "My mom, she dreamed really big for all of us."

Zhou, too, talked of the sacrifices of his parents, engineers who emigrated from China to the United States in 1992. About 11 years ago, his mom, Fay Ge, left her job at Oracle to move with Vincent to Southern California to train under Tammy Gambill, while his father and two older sisters remained in the Bay Area.

"I haven't let my age be a distraction or a barrier to any possibilities," Zhou said. "I feel like because how much I've been through -- being in a split-family situation since the time I was 8; living in apartments with no hot water or air conditioning; nearly losing my father in 2012 (to a collapsed lung); living with my mom on our own for so long -- that's given me a realistic perspective on the world."

Zhou tried out the ice at Gangneung Ice Arena early in the Games, and then moved to Chuncheon, where U.S. Figure Skating has arranged for ice. He returned to Gangneung at the beginning of the Games' second week and practiced there Tuesday.

"I'm attempting five quads in my free skate, and I've been successful many times in practice recently," said Zhou, who landed his first quadruple jump -- a salchow -- at age 14. "It doesn't really feel crazy anymore."

At the 2018 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, held in his hometown of San Jose, Zhou included five quads in his free but received three under-rotation calls and one downgrade from the technical panel.

"I'm feeling just that little bit stronger than I felt at nationals," he said. "I felt pretty good at nationals. I feel like I have a little more confidence, especially in my ability to do clean programs. In my practice session this morning, I think I was 21 out of 23 on my jumps, success rate."

Was that success rate on quads?

"I pretty much only do triple axels and quads," Zhou said. "I do a triple lutz for warmup, that's about it. I've increased my confidence and my muscle memory, and it's working out well."

Zhou has an unusual coaching arrangement, with three well-known pros sharing the reigns: Gambill; Tom Zakrajsek, with whom he has worked in Colorado Springs for several years; and Christy Krall, a technical specialist well versed in Dartfish jumping software. Krall joined his team in the run-up to the U.S. championships and, along with Gambill and Zakrajsek, is in PyeongChang.

"It's a really great full-package team," Zhou said. "I am also working with Ryan Jahnke, Janet Champion, Drew Meekins at home, who all make their contributions."

"I feel like communicating is a vital part of it, because there are a few people handling different things," he added. "I feel like they work well together. There hasn't been any conflict in technique. If anything, my jumps have gotten better, as my practice this morning showed."

- Lynn Rutherford