Gold medalist Nathan Chen shows us how to get through COVID anxiety

COVID, as Year 3 approaches, still stinks for everyone – but spare an extra thought for our Olympians.

Bad luck means they must take their unique chance in an authoritarian China in the midst of a global pandemic, terrified that they will test positive and be done competing – and also locked in solitary confinement. quarantine.

Yet they still manage to get through, especially figure skater Nathan Chen, the star of these games and the perfect athlete for our faux-head times.

Most elite athletes aren’t like us: it’s hard to identify with Tom Brady and his supermodel wife or Tiger Woods and him – well, never mind.

But the Olympians are different. These are amateur, not professional sports; most competitors are never paid well for their work.

Unless you To do become the best in your field and stick with it for a while, setting your sights on becoming the fastest skier or most accurate curler in the world sounds more like a weird and expensive hobby than being, say , a professional baseball or football player.

Nathan Chen of the United States competes in the men's free skate during the figure skating event at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Nathan Chen is from Salt Lake City, Utah.
Natasha Pisarenko/AP

In pro ball, if you’re the world’s next star pitcher or halfback, COVID is a setback, of course. But that’s not your whole career; you have time to catch up.

Not so if you play a sport, like figure skating, whose moment on the world stage only comes once every four years.

If you’re in the game, you can’t miss a single Olympic. You can be too young and inexperienced to clinch clear gold in an Olympiad, and then be too old and decrepit to do so eight years later.

Yes this is your year, well, it’s already been a bad break. Think of Vincent Zhou, the 21-year-old California skating star who helped his team clinch silver last week but then had to pull out of individual men’s competition because he tested positive for COVID. .

“I’ve done everything in my power to stay safe from COVID since the pandemic began,” Zhou said from his isolation room in China, curtains drawn tight, noting that “the loneliness that I felt . . . was overwhelming.

Gold medalist Nathan Chen of the United States poses after the men's free skate program during the figure skating event at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Chen also attends Yale University in Connecticut when not honing his figure skating skills.
Jae C. Hong/AP

Nathan Chen, the new record-breaking gold medalist, had to compete in the same environment: constant isolation, fear of contracting COVID and that all that work was for nothing. These Olympics were 22-year-old Chen’s second and probably last chance; he competed in South Korea four years ago and did poorly.

And you could see the anxiety throughout the short program, the first of the two-part skating. Chen, a Salt Lake City native who trains in California (and goes to Yale, Connecticut in his spare time), was technically perfect in his quadruple jumps, but he looked so nervous you almost felt sorry for him.

Chen’s long program on Thursday, however, was the perfect 4 1/2 minute encapsulation to break free from COVID-related anxiety.

For the first two minutes, Chen once again looked like a terrified hostage to fortune: a world-class skater, yes, but grimly afraid to skate for his life. A few seconds after the two-minute mark, however, it’s as if another person has taken over. After landing her jumps, Chen does her best move yet and smiles.

The rest of the skate is pure unconscious exuberance.

Gold medalist Nathan Chen of the United States performs his national anthem during the men's freestyle figure skating medal ceremony.
Gold medalist Nathan Chen of the United States performs his national anthem during the men’s freestyle figure skating medal ceremony.
Jae C. Hong/AP

Most of us, of course, aren’t world-class skaters or anything world-class – but we’ve faced the same unrelenting anxiety and fear over the past two years. How long will we have COVID? Are we going to lose our jobs? Will our family members and friends get sick? Is going to the cinema a life or death decision?

Chen’s second half is therefore a lesson: relax and have fun! If we’ve come this far, we’re doing well. We are all winners but think of those who were not so lucky.

Upon receiving his gold medal on Thursday, Chen uttered a silent “Wow.” Then the near-perfect skater had to do a move we’ve all done over the past two years: he, along with the silver and bronze medalists (both from Japan), had to reach into his pocket for his mask.

It’s a strange world – but don’t forget to say “Wow” before they force you to put on your mask.

Nicole Gelinas is editor-in-chief of the City Journal at the Manhattan Institute.

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