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figure skating and when things don't go according to plan
Nathan Chen: more fire, less fear of failure
I watched a lot of figure skating this weekend because it was the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, which are not to be confused with an Olympic Trials, but which do aid in the ultimate selection of the Olympic team for Beijing 2022. U.S. Figure Skating has its own complicated criteria for selecting the team, based mainly on a skater’s body of work rather than results from one competition, but which always seems to include leaving out the silver medalist (a 17-year-old who calls himself “quad god” or technically @quadg0d) and taking the fourth-placer (but how can you not root for Jason Brown) instead. Drama and sequins abound!
I incorrectly assumed that this event must be held in Salt Lake City, because they hosted the Olympics there in 2002, if not California or New Jersey, because that’s where all the elite skaters seem to be from. However, the city chosen to host the national championships was instead Nashville, which I did not realize was a hotbed for figure skating in addition to country music and Covid.
I can’t find the tweet but apparently there was a man busking in the athlete hotel in a cowboy hat without a mask on and maybe that is why so many top-ranked skaters came down with Covid and had to drop out, including the No. 1 ranked ladies’ skater Alysa Liu! She has still been named to the Olympic team, and there doesn’t seem to be much concern about that or about any of the other athletes with Covid being able to go compete as normal in Beijing, which seems odd to me but I guess they’re all asymptomatic or have super-mild cases? Go off I guess… On a related note, this definitely seems like the best year to be an Olympic alternate based on how often people are getting pulled out of competition. Maybe @quadg0d will get his shot after all.
Someone on Twitter said that all the male skaters looked like they had Covid because they were so sluggish and while I wouldn’t agree with that, there were a lot more falls than I remembered from 2018. (I only follow this sport every four years sorry!). Vincent Zhou, who has beat Nathan Chen exactly one time and was hyped up as the potential spoiler, had a real dog of it and couldn’t stay on his skates. No one could, except @quadg0d, who was not properly rewarded for his efforts! I know nothing about the scoring system but it seems that to be competitive, you have to execute a lot of quadruple things (loops, toes, Salchows, etc.) and even if you fall, you get enough points for trying that it’s better than not trying at all. Similar to gymnastics (I was also surprised at how often people fell down in Tokyo).
Even Nathan Chen — the golden god and great American hope to fell Japan’s two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu — fell not once, but twice. The first fall was during one of the quadruple jump elements and the second fall was during his choreographed dance break to Elton John’s “Benny and the Jets” (yes, this is an actual thing) and he literally started laughing out loud because, shrug, how ridiculous.
Chen’s reaction to both falls was to smile and just keep going. He pops back up, glides into the next segment of his routine and nails the next jump. It’s the polar opposite of some of the lesser skaters, who get visibly flustered the moment they lose momentum on the ice. Part of that is because for most of the skaters to have any chance at all, they must execute every element perfectly, while Chen’s difficulty is so much higher than anybody else’s that he has a huge margin for error.
But it’s his knee-jerk reaction (or lack thereof) to falling that stuck with me today when I went for a short jog to shake out last night and pick up my bike at the brewery down the street. How do we react when things don’t go to plan? And what does that say about us?
I’ve been feeling little bubbles of anxiety the past week or so, because I’ve got a race coming up next weekend that I don’t feel super prepared for: the Houston Half Marathon. I missed a few key workouts during the holidays and totally bombed what should have been a confidence-boosting final hard session last week and so now I’m stuck trying to give myself the same advice that I shell out to other people: sometimes it’s good to take the extra rest, the fitness is there, it’s just different on race day! etc., etc., it’s just harder to believe when it’s you.
But there’s something to learn here from Nathan Chen and his fire top and laughing at failure. These are ridiculous things that we choose to take very seriously: running hard for hours at a time, spinning in circles until we fall down, bedazzling our bodies until we puke. And if things don’t go according to plan, that’s okay, and maybe it’s even more than okay… it can be funny, even.
A few things I’ve written lately
2022 Power Women of the Year, Women’s Running
Behind the paywall: I wrote profiles on Gabriela DeBues-Stafford, Athing Mu and Sydney McLaughlin for this, which might be published individually at some point but are currently packaged together
A few things I can’t stop thinking about (today)
Yellowjackets (Showtime) This might be the best show I have ever seen in my life… honestly, the less said the better but it involves super competitive high school girls soccer players, the ‘90s, survivalism and potentially some very weird shit. The pilot episode is free on YouTube, you’re welcome.
Michael and Isha in Twentysomethings: Austin (Netflix) Are they actually dating in real life or is this relationship produced for the show? Does anything make sense about this pair? Does she realize that he is actually not very funny at all? Why were two out of four girls on this show really into Michael?! I don’t get it.
Spinning Out (Netflix) Elite figure skating, mental illness, underage drinking, January Jones… unfairly canceled after one season. My dream job would be to write on a show like this, but about track and field athletes.