Earlier this week, Nathan Chen lived up to every ounce of pre-Olympics hype, clinching a gold medal in men’s figure skating with a near flawless free skate program that showcased his astonishing athletic skills and sublime choreography.
And at the same time, he also took us on a tour of the musical highlights of an all-time gay icon.
Opening his program to an eerie extended violin note, Chen served notice that it was his night right away, executing a quad flip in step with two discordant orchestra hits. Then as the crowd broke into the first of numerous applause breaks, a very familiar voice intoned:
“When are you gonna come down?
When are you going to land?”
The unmistakable opening lyrics to “Goodbye Yellow Brick Road” clued every viewer in that Chen’s long program would also be functioning as a tribute to the greatest hits of Elton John. It was as if the best parts of a Super Bowl halftime show suddenly took over the Olympics.
Seemingly uplifted by the legendary soundtrack, Chen executed another quad that was so miraculous, it could have brought back the 74-year-old Elton’s falsetto.
Chen followed it up with a spin as his background music started to shift tempos. Although it teased the crowd with the opening synth chords of “Can You Feel the Love Tonight,” this was not about to turn into some sort of lame wedding dance. Instead, the synthesizer crescendoed into something even more iconic, and with perfect timing, as Chen landed yet another quad lutz.
“And I think it’s gonna be a long, long time
’Til touchdown brings me ‘round again to find…”
Then it was time to bring the house down, which meant it was time for “Rocket Man.”
As Chen kept executing moves on the ice, I finally understood what Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski meant when they declared his program was the most difficult of the night.
Simply put, Chen pulled off the impossible. He became the first person I’ve ever seen to hear the chorus of “Rocket Man” and continue doing his job instead of dropping everything to sing along. That alone must have taken at least a decade of training.
Finally, as Lipinski exclaimed, “All right, get ready to boogie,” Chen pulled off another spin as Elton’s voice shifted into overdrive.
“She’s got electric boots, a mohair suit
You know I read it in a magazine!”
The last portion of Chen’s program looked like it was designed to celebrate the moment where he established once and for all that he’s an Olympic champion. And what better selection to rock out to on the ice than a remix of “Benny and the Jets?”
This celebration of Sir Elton’s catalogue helped elevate what was already an historic night into a program that will live on in memory for a long time.
It was also a welcome embrace of gay culture, especially after Chen had to apologize last year for remarks he made on a podcast distancing himself from LGBTQ figure skaters.
After such an impressive performance, the only thing that was missing from the Elton tribute was a costume change into a sequin Dodgers uniform or Donald Duck. Chen’s performance was captivating enough to draw Twitter congratulations from the man himself…
Congratulations @nathanwchen for winning Gold skating to Rocket Man in the free skate finals in Beijing pic.twitter.com/c9C2Kc3zti— Elton John (@eltonofficial) February 10, 2022
To complete Chen’s comeback from his PyeongChang 2018 setback, there was no better way to say “I’m still standing.”