The Olympics are perhaps the most pressure-packed competition in all of sports. Athletes train for four years leading up to the Games, then have one shot at glory.

For figure skaters, four years of training comes down to four minutes alone on the ice, on a global stage, with millions watching around the world.

“Going in for the first time, it’s really daunting,” Salt Lake City native Nathan Chen said.

In his first Olympics, the then-18-year-old Chen was among the favorites to medal. In his individual short program at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, with all of the pressure on him, he fell and missed a couple of jumps, placing 17th.

What happened in his next event, the free skate, would set the tone for the next four years of his career.

Chen turned in a remarkable performance on the free skate, finishing with an Olympic-record score of 215.08.

Nathan Chen of the United States performs during the men’s free figure skating final in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea on Feb. 17, 2018. | Bernat Armangue, Associated Press

He cleanly landed five quadruple jumps, becoming the first skater in Olympic history to do so. He vaulted from 17th place to fifth with the performance.

In between the short program and the free skate, Chen re-examined his mindset.

Instead of putting pressure on himself to take home gold, he instead focused on the technical aspects of the upcoming skate. He kept his mind clear, trusted his training and tried to just stay in the moment.

After the Olympics, he also worked with a sports psychologist, according to Olympics.com.

The Michael Jordan of figure skating

Since that record-setting free skate in 2018, Chen — with his new mindset — has been on top of the figure skating world.

In his 18 events since the Pyeongchang Games, Chen has won 17 of them. He continues to improve his skating, event after event, pushing himself — and the sport — to new heights.

In perhaps the crowning moment in his career thus far, Chen set two world records at the 2019–20 Grand Prix of Figure Skating Final.

His free skate score of 224.92 beat the previous record, set by Yuzuru Hanyu, by nearly 12 points. His combined score at the final — totaling together the free skate and the short program — was 335.30. Chen also owns the second-highest combined score, 323.42, set at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships.

In all, Chen has won three world championships since the 2018 Olympics.

In January, he capped off his sixth consecutive title at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships by breaking the short program record at the event with a score of 114.13 in his last competition before the 2022 Beijing Games. Winning the U.S. Figure Skating Championship secured his place on the Olympic team.

Chen said he tries to skate to music that he loves. At the 2022 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, he skated to the opera “La Bohème” in the short program and to Elton John’s “Rocket Man” in the free skate.

In the short program, he hit a quad flip and a quad lutz triple toe during the performance, while mixing in his unique movement and style.

During Chen’s record-breaking short program, NBC figure skating analyst Johnny Weir called Chen the Michael Jordan of figure skating.

And much like MJ pushed the game of basketball to another level, Chen is pushing figure skating’s limits.

“He keeps pushing the technical level at this point in his career,” NBC commentator Tara Lipinski said. “He’s been pushing men’s skating into the unknown. It’s a combination of innovation and athleticism. Ten years ago, this type of skating would be a fever dream. You wouldn’t even imagine that this could happen.”

Inspired by the 2002 Olympic flame

Chen was born in Salt Lake City in 1999 to Chinese immigrant parents Zhidong Chen and Hetty Wang.

In his Olympic bio, Chen remembers watching figure skating on TV during the 2002 Salt Lake Winter Olympics. He started skating that year, at 3 years old.

Growing up in Utah, Chen had reminders of the Olympics everywhere he went.

Clifford Duncan of the Ute Nation performs a blessing as the Olympic flame is turned off at Rice-Eccles Stadium Feb. 24, 2003 at the one year anniversary of the 2002 Olympic closing ceremonies. | Tom Smart, Deseret News

“I think being able to be in an Olympic town and see Olympic memorabilia everywhere just really gives you inspiration and motivation to go to the rink every day,” he said. “It gives you a fresh perspective on how cool it is to have an event like the Olympics.”

When practicing in ice rinks in Utah, Chen would pretend that he was in the Olympics.

“Just having that inspiration, that sort of start of a dream, can really take people far.”

He credits the Olympic-level facilities in Utah, like the Steiner Ice Rink, for his development.

“Utah has really awesome facilities,” Chen said. “Had it not been for the 2002 Olympics, had it not been for the development of all those Olympic-level facilities, it would have been really difficult for me to make it to where I am now.”

He also credits his parents.

“I’m really proud of the way that I’ve been able to get to where I am,” Chen said. “Of course, that’s due to my parents and all of the people that have helped me throughout my way.”

Given the world-class facilities and Utahns’ passion for winter sports, Chen thinks that more Olympic figure skaters could emerge from Utah.

“I’m certain that, given that I was in that situation, there certainly will be other athletes that come from Utah,” Chen said. “I’m looking forward to see the future of the sport develop from Utah.”

Seven years after he got his start in Utah, at just 10 years old, Chen stunned the audience at the U.S. Championships — where he would later shatter records.

“Remember that name,” the NBC commentator said, 12 years ago.

Preparing for the 2022 Olympics

As if training for four years for his next shot at the Olympics wasn’t enough, the 22-year-old Chen is also a junior at Yale, majoring in statistics and data science. Yes, while breaking records and winning championships, Chen was studying at one of the nation’s top universities.

Chen took a break from school to prepare for the Olympics, but is looking forward to returning to Yale in August.

As for his future in skating after the 2022 Games? That is undecided.

“In this current moment, I am still enjoying what I’m doing. I’m still enjoying going to the rink every day and train and see my training mates,” Chen said.

“Utah has really awesome facilities. Had it not been for the 2002 Olympics, had it not been for the development of all those Olympic-level facilities, it would have been really difficult for me to make it to where I am now.” — Nathan Chen

After winning three world championships, Chen enters the 2022 Games with even more hype swirling around him than during his first trip in 2018.

With a fresh mindset, more talent, and the experience of the 2018 Games, Chen is ready for the Beijing Games.

“The Olympics are such an extraordinary competition, really nothing like it, so to be able to have one experience of that already and being able to have four years in between that to continue growing is a really great thing,” he said.

Chen knows what it’s like to fail on the biggest stage in the world, with millions watching. He’s gone through it already. That helps take the pressure off for his second time around.

“Although it is an extremely meaningful event, at the end of the day, whether you win, whether you lose, you’re going to still go home and see your same friends and family, you’re still going to do the same activities,” Chen said.

“One moment is not going to define the rest of your life.”

Chen will compete in the men’s short program on Feb. 7 and will compete in the free skate on Feb. 9.

“I’m just really looking forward to going back and working for that goal, for whatever goals I have for the Games,” Chen said.