Olympic nerves determines how well athletes perform

This year, men’s singles figure skating was the Olympic event that I was looking forward to most. It featured some of the best skaters in the world, such as reigning Olympic champion and record holder Yuzuru Hanyu, 18 year-old Nathan Chen, two-time World champion Javier Fernandez, and 2014 silver medalist Patrick Chan. All are phenomenal and extremely skilled skaters, expected to bring their A-game at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
Because the skaters are all so well-matched for each other, it was mostly the difficulty of their programs and each individual’s confidence in their abilities that set them apart. In the end, they all undoubtedly have the skills required to win the gold medal.
Before the games started, I really believed that Nathan Chen was going to be the one to take home the Olympic gold in men’s singles. That is a lot to say, considering Chen’s competition was Yuzuru Hanyu, the one who seems to break records every time he’s on the ice. Chen had an amazing nationals free skate containing five quads, finishing in first place with a total combined score of 315.23. However, Chen has actually won against Hanyu in the past at the 2017 Four Continents Championships. Not to mention, the TV ads that continued to drive up the hype surrounding Chen only served to increase my support and excitement for his Olympic debut.
To be honest, I was devastated watching his first short program in the team event. He failed to land the jumps that he shouldn’t have had a problem with, landing him in fourth place for that event with a score of 80.61. It was clearly Olympic nerves that were holding Chen back from scoring higher. Rather than a lack of skill or experience, especially considering that he has been skating since he was only three years old and his current stats are phenomenal. Devastated after the skate, Chen said that he would continue to work hard and do better on his upcoming skates.
Thankfully, Adam Rippon was able to pick up the slack with his free skate, winning the bronze medal for the US men’s figure skating team.
When his short program in the men’s singles event came around, Chen failed to skate like he normally would once again. I was virtually in tears; he ended up with a score of 82.27, landing him in 17th place. Because of the competition he was up against, it was obviously a lack of self-confidence holding him back once again.
Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu is, in my opinion, equally as talented as competitor Nathan Chen. Where the two begin to differ is their self-confidence. During his skates, Hanyu is relaxed, smooth and assured, completing every jump, spin and step-sequence with purpose. Hanyu is a fantastic skater but he wins because he knows that he can win and skates with a calmness that I haven’t really seen with any other athletes.
There is no doubt that Hanyu is an amazing skater, but there is no reason that Chen shouldn’t be able to complete his programs with a score that is comparable. In fact, Chen brought it all back when he scored a 297.35 for his free skate, putting him in fifth place. Chen made history landing five out of six of his attempted quads and completing one of his best skates ever, even though it wasn’t enough to get him to the podium.
Afterwards, Chen posted to social media saying, “These past two weeks have been the biggest emotional rollercoaster of my life. I began this competition with the two worst short programs of my competitive career. I couldn’t believe what happened, and my confidence completely dissipated. If not for the hundreds of messages of support from all of you I never would’ve been able to bounce back and lay down the long I did here.”
Figure skating is not the only event where confidence is the tiebreaker between the top athletes. Any sport that requires an extreme amount of focus to execute perfectly is the same way. Just a few that come to mind would be halfpipe, big-air, biathlon and any other sort of skiing or snowboarding event involving tricks.