HELSINKI, Finland -- Nathan Chen felt out of sorts. He stressed over having slept badly Wednesday night. His skating boots were literally letting him down, no matter how much duct tape he used to hold them together. His warmup before Thursday's short program at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships saw him fall on one quadruple jump attempt and a step out on the landing of another.
"I think the pressure got to me a little bit," he said.
Each issue made Chen a little more nervous about his world championships debut at the end of a season in which he had gone from a first-year senior with great promise to the cynosure of all eyes in the sport. He had become the U.S. champion, the Four Continents champion, and the first to land five quads in a free skate.
Now he faced 20 minutes between the end of his warmup and his start time, which he spent thinking about making sure the quads were secure and worrying about how the 11th-hour struggles might affect his performance.
"That kind of got me a little shook up," he said.
It would be more than a little ironic, though, that the last and best thing Chen did in the warmup was a very good triple axel -- the jump that has remained his nemesis as he leaped to the top of his sport with a dazzling number and variety of quads.
"Triples are hard," Chen would say with a laugh after the short program. "Quads are really my thing."
Chen would hit both quads in the short program, extending his streak of successfully landing quads to 20 over four competitions. Then he fell on the triple axel, a mistake that cost him at least four points for that element and impacted his execution and scores for the footwork and spin that immediately followed.
Those mistakes left him sixth in the standings with 97.33 points, nearly 12 points behind short program winner Javier Fernández of Spain (109.05), world champion the past two years. But, the talented Chen stands only 4.8 behind third-place (and three-time world champion) Patrick Chan of Canada, a gap Chen may try to close by trying an unprecedented six quads in Saturday's free skate.
"Why not, why not?" said his coach, Rafael Arutunian, who intimated that an additional jump would be a second lutz, the most difficult quad anyone ever has done.