BY BARRY WILNER
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (AP) — Three spots in the top 10. A victory in the free skate.
Sounds like a pretty good Olympics for the U.S. men.
It was, sort of.
Two-time American champion Nathan Chen had designs on a medal, preferably gold, when he headed to South Korea. When the pressure and expectations got to him in the short program — he wound up 17th and was fortunate to be that high — a shot at the podium was gone.
But the 18-year-old quad king hit an unprecedented six of the four-revolution jumps Saturday to win the free skate and soar into fifth place.
Just one place behind was teammate Vincent Zhou, another jumping jack at age 17. Zhou did five quads.
And when veteran Adam Rippon, in possibly his last competitive performance, put down a mesmerizing artistic display to grab 10th overall — without a quad — the United States stood pretty tall, if minus a medal.
“I definitely did want to redeem myself after the two short programs,” Chen said, also mentioning his weak performance in the team event, in which the U.S. still managed bronze. “And I definitely did that here. Honestly I am human, I make mistakes. Unfortunately it happened at a really bad time.”
Best of all, perhaps, is that Chen and Zhou have set a high bar for competitors to match or leap over. If Chen is the quad king, then Zhou is his prince.
“I was asked about the 2022 Olympics in Beijing and I said, ‘It’s prime time, baby,'” Zhou said.
Changes might be coming in the sport, including restricting the number of jumps a competitor can stuff into a program. But Chen and Zhou are capable of stretching the parameters on the ice regardless of the rules.
Both are young enough to stick around and improve in the next four years. There was some thought Chen would stop competing had he won at the Olympics, but it now seems unlikely he will leave when there is so much more he is capable of achieving.
This season, in which Chen also won the Grand Prix Final, his presentation improved immensely. Sure, there is plenty of work to do in that category, but that’s usually true of skaters who focus so deeply on jumping.
And Zhou has only touched the limits of his skills.
“It’s really, really difficult to put it into words. It’s been such a wild ride over my short 17 years,” he said. “I’ve been through so much, it would take me hours to say it all. But to skate like that, to have a successful performance, means so much to me.”
He said he will skip the closing ceremony and soon begin training for next month’s world championships. It’s a grind, but one he has embraced.
“I see my family maybe twice a year,” Zhou said. “I spent time training in places hundreds, thousands of miles from my home, living in apartments that did not have very good conditions. I’ve been injured, tore my meniscus in my right knee, almost quit skating before. So for this to happen, for everything to come to those 4 minutes and 40 seconds on the ice, to put out such an amazing long program, that’s why I was so emotional at the end.”
Rippon always is emotional. And classy. And fun.
He will make quite an impression in skating shows if he is done competing.
“I have no idea,” he said of the future. “I think first I need a five-minute break, a really stiff drink, and then maybe like a day or two off the ice — at least to dry out my costumes — and then we’ll see.
“No matter what, to come away from this Olympic Games and to have skated like this and gone out there every single time, it’s just so awesome. It’s awesome.”
AP Sports Writers Dave Skretta and Jake Seiner contributed to this report.
More AP Olympic coverage: https://wintergames.ap.org
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