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Olympian Nathan Chen is about to make all of us proud

Now 18 years old, he’s been preparing for his Olympic moment since he was a toddler

“When it’s your time, it is your time.”

Bruno Mars


Nathan Chen, the son of Chinese immigrants, is America’s brightest hope to win Olympic gold in men’s figure skating. He enters the Olympic games in South Korea as the reigning U.S. national men’s figure skating champion. An American in Pyeongchang, Chen will exemplify the fresh-faced verve and athleticism of dancer Gene Kelly in his classic 1950s movie musicals.

At about 5-6, Chen is another little big man in sports and entertainment, a fraternity whose members include everyone from José Altuve, the Houston Astros’ second baseman and 2017 American League MVP, to Bruno Mars, the sprightly marvel who just won six Grammy awards.

Like Mars, who can do scintillating James Brown moves on stage, Chen has paid the cost to be the boss. As a toddler, he took to the ice in hockey skates. Today, bolstered by years of training in gymnastics and ballet, Chen competes with a puckish élan, rotating through the air before landing his patented quadruple jumps.

Just 18, Chen is among the young masters who electrify today’s sports, from Connor McDavid of the Edmonton Oilers in the NHL to Kyle Larson, the diminutive Californian who is one of NASCAR’s fast-rising stars.

The young titans in the nation’s popular culture hail from everywhere. It’s the American way, or should be. Some, like Canadian McDavid, already his sport’s best player, come from nearby places. Others, such as Joel Embiid (Cameroon) and Ben Simmons (Australia) of the Philadelphia 76ers come from places far away. Still others, perhaps those who travel the greatest metaphysical distance, make the journey from our nation’s hardscrabble big-city neighborhoods, which is what hip-hop has done. And hip-hop is what Motown called its music in the 1960s: “The Sound of Young America.”

Indeed, it’s our nation’s continuing ability to embrace people and influences from across the country and all around the world that will help keep America dynamic and competitive, not just in sports, but in commerce, science and the arts for decades to come.

In the coming days, Chen from Utah will make his bid for Olympic and American gold. With his stunning jumps, he’s brought something new to men’s figure skating. He’s elevated his sport, just as Tiger Woods lifted golf and Michael Jordan raised expectations to the roof along with six NBA championship banners for the Chicago Bulls.

Our society displays an endless capacity to turn everything into a sport, a game with rules and scores, winners and losers. Who knows what artistic heights Chen might scale if he were freed of the burdens of skating for Olympic gold and glory? Depending upon who is keeping score, perhaps Chen’s greatest triumph will come from inspiring others to pick themselves up after they fall, no matter what they intend to do.

During the Olympics, Chen will have just a few moments on the ice to show whether this is his time. He says he’s put in the work and is ready for the glaring and shimmering lights that come with seeking Olympic gold. He will fly through the air, and the hopes of a nation will soar with him. And, over time, he will answer questions America’s young, gifted and talented pose: How high can he fly? How far will he go? How far can he take us?

A graduate of Hampton University, Jeff Rivers worked for Ebony, HBO and three daily newspapers, winning multiple awards for his columns. Jeff and his wife live in New Jersey and have two children, a son Marc and a daughter Lauren.