He also became the first American since Evan Lysacek in 2010 to win a men’s figure skating gold medal.
“It means the world. I’m just so happy,” Chen said following the win, adding there were “too many emotions to process”.
“It’s a whirlwind right now. I had a blast out there.”
Chen’s long program at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium opened with a quadruple flip, followed by a triple toe loop. He nailed every jump and move, with a total of five quad jumps, including a quadruple lutz.
“Of course, there are certainly many things I could have done better, but overall I was very happy I was able to do the program that I put down,” the skater said.
Chen’s joyful and energetic routine was set to a medley of songs, including Elton John’s “Rocket Man.” Every jump he performed was met with roaring cheers and claps from athletes and other spectators in the “closed loop” side of the stadium — though the other side, holding Chinese spectators, remained largely silent, according to CNN reporters in the stadium.
The performance placed Chen well at the lead with a score of 218.63, combined with his short program score for a winning total of 332.60. Two Japanese skaters take the podium behind him.
Eighteen-year-old Yuma Kagiyama came in at 310.05 points for silver in his first Olympics, and Shoma Uno, who won silver in 2018 PyeongChang Games, took bronze with a score of 293. Japanese all-time great Yuzuru Hanyu, who fell attempting the fabled quadruple axel in his free skate, came in a disappointing fourth.
“I know that they did everything that they could to give us — I’m the youngest of five — to give all of us…opportunities to pursue (our dreams), without having many resources themselves,” he said.
“It certainly has not been easy for them,” he said, recalling his mother helping him in his own early training and struggles to afford coaches.
Chen also said that as a kid growing up in Salt Lake City he found “inspiration” in Asian-American figure skating star and two-time Olympic medalist Michelle Kwan.
“Having athletes that look like you certainly gives you the hope that you can do the same,” Chen said.
He is the seventh man to win gold for the United States in men’s singles skating, according to the Olympic website.
The win is also a reprieve for Chen, who gave a disappointing performance at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018, landing fifth in the individual competition, though leaving with a bronze medal in the team event.
In the four years since, Chen has risen, racking up three straight world championships and sealing a 6th consecutive US title to arrive in Beijing as a favorite.
It’s an accomplishment that the skater has made while pursuing a statistics and data science degree at Yale — a program he took a temporary break from in order to prepare for the Games.
On Thursday after his gold-medal win, Chen said he was looking forward to returning to his studies in August, but as for skating, “I’ll take some time to think,” he said.