GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – Let Nathan Chen transport you inside the arena, on the ice with him. His skate cuts into the ice, leading to a launch point that draws gasps. Midflight, midspin, tucked together in the tightest of rotations, that's where he hooks you. That fourth twirl, a daring endeavor every time he lifts his skate off the ice to attempt the move that's forever changed international figure skating.
Nobody garners attention like a revolutionary.
He's been highly marketed as the "King of Quads" entering these 2018 Olympic Winter Games. In a pre-Games United Airlines commercial, he was fashioned as a normal youngster who can morph on command into this transcendent figure on the ice. A quadruple jump is four full rotations in the air. As on other jumps performed, there are variations of takeoff and landing points on his skates, some a much higher degree of difficulty than others.
"I think he puts a lot of pressure on himself to keep pushing and pushing the envelope," said fellow American Olympian Adam Rippon, who trains full time with Chen near Long Beach, Calif. "He's really incredible. He pushes himself really hard. Every single day."
Chen will put that power on full display Thursday (7 p.m. CST) when the men's competition begins with the short program.
Twin Cities fans were among the first to see how Chen would elevate the game for the U.S. men. At the 2016 national championships at Xcel Energy Center, when he was only 16, he became the first man to land two quads in a short program and four in a free skate. He won the bronze medal in his first season at the senior level.
Quadruple jumps have been implemented sparsely here and there over the years, but none to the level that Chen can rise, twist and land. He's set figure skating records in quads attempted and landed in programs (seven) in the past year.
But there is a battle for the ethos of figure skating, the gem of every Winter Games, a fight between grace and power.
At the forefront is the teenager from Utah, who grew up skating on the Olympic training ice at the Salt Lake City Sports Complex. Beyond this rare capacity to execute and land all these contrasting quad jumps, the reasoning isn't complex.
"I have gotten a lot of criticism over the past couple years for what I'm doing in the sport," Chen said. "However, I still feel this is the best approach to medals and securing podium spots. Maybe in the future things will change, but this is the way that I've approached it, this is that way a lot of other skaters have approached it, and whoever comes out the cleanest is going to win right now."
He's not the only one, either. Reigning Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan can throw down a five-quad routine when healthy. Chen said the top five or six skaters in the world have the capability to utilize a number of quads in their program here to help them land a medal. Figure skating royalty hasn't shied away from voicing its displeasure with such a shift in the sport.
Two-time Olympic gold medalist Dick Button, now 88, recently said he despises how the difficult maneuver has altered the landscape of performances and how they're judged. Button said he doesn't enjoy watching today's skating, though he acknowledges that the skater who lands the most quads here inside the Gangneung Ice Arena will win gold.
Skating, Chen agrees, is much more than quads. Nobody gets more flustered when reading or hearing that Chen's routines are lacking than Cati Snarr, his former teacher at Ballet West Academy in Salt Lake City.
"There hasn't been a skater with an artistic score that equals their technical score at an Olympic level," she said.
Staff writer Rachel Blount contributed to this report.