Nathan Chen, men's figure skating lead Thursday night's Olympic schedule

Pyeongchang Olympics Figure Skating Men
American Nathan Chen hopes to have a much better outing Thursday when men’s figure skating takes center stage.

Quick observations heading into tonight’s events while wondering how to elect more leaders like the sartorially challenged Pita Taufatofua.

Thursday night’s highlight

Nathan Chen didn’t hang his head after last week’s disappointing performance in the team event short program. Instead, the 18-year-old American champion hit the road

Chen took a 50-mile ride away from the Olympic Village to the town of Chuncheon for some intense training and probably to clear his head. His first performance was filled with uncharacteristic errors, and his focus wasn’t sharp.

“I think I was just a little bit ahead of myself,” Chen told the Washington Post. “I need to be a little more present, a little more ‘in the moment’ and home in on the technical things that I have to think about before the jumps.”

Chen will be back on the ice Thursday night (8 p.m. Eastern, NBC) for the singles short program. A jumping wiz, Chen will skate 26th out of the 30 competitors. Americans Adam Rippon and Vincent Zhou also will be in the field.

Chen will follow reigning world champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who also claimed gold in men’s singles at the 2014 Olympics.

“I’ve skated after him [before] and skated well,” said Chen, a Salt Lake City native who has been skating since he was 3. “The crowd always gets super hyped up, and so [I will] just use that to my advantage as well.”

[Thursday’s full TV schedule]

This and that

*Odd fact that only a history buff might find interesting: Japanese champion skater Yuzuru Hanyu was born on Dec. 7, 1994.

*Mikaela Shiffrin is favored to win Thursday’s women’s slalom, her strongest event. The first run will be during NBC’s 8 p.m. block, with the second scheduled for the network’s 11:30 p.m. program. Shiffrin made a little news after her gold-medal win in Wednesday’s giant slalom when she decided to skip Friday’s super-G because, according to her mom/coach, there simply wasn’t enough time to prepare. Weather delays forced the events to be scheduled on three consecutive days. Shiffrin plans to compete in next week’s downhill and combined, giving her the chance to earn four golds, which would be a first for an Alpine skier, male or female.

*Lindsey Vonn will make her Olympic debut Friday in the super-G. She’s also expected to race in the downhill and the combined.

*Tough break for Jorrit Bergsma, of the Netherlands, who set the Olympic record in the men’s speedskating 10k only to have it broken 13 minutes later by Canada’s Ted-Jan Blomen. Bergsma, married to American speedskater Heather Richardson-Bergsma, had to settle for silver.

*Never heard speedskating described quite the way NBC analyst Joey Cheek did. He said it’s like a classic rock song from the 1970s. It starts slow and builds into a crescendo. “The 10k [race] done right is like ‘Stairway to Heaven,’ ” he said. OK.

*The U.S. men’s hockey team will play Slovakia tonight (10 p.m., CNBC). The Americans were upset by Slovenia in their opener Wednesday.

*Sweden beat Norway in men’s hockey without defenseman Rasmus Dahlin, who is the consensus favorite to be this year’s No. 1 NHL draft pick.  “He’s a tremendous hockey player,” Swedish coach Rikard Gronborg said. “But he’s also 17 years old. For him to be here is an unbelievable achievement. At the same time, I think he’s good enough to be here. Otherwise, we wouldn’t pick him.” Former Flyers farmhands Erik Gustaffson and Patrik Hersley were among the defensemen who did dress.

U.S. medalists (8)

Through 3 p.m. Eastern, Thursday, Feb. 15

Gold (5):

Mikaela Shiffrin (women’s giant slalom)

Shaun White (snowboarding/men’s halfpipe)

Chloe Kim (snowboarding/women’s halfpipe)

Jamie Anderson (snowboarding/women’s slopestyle)

Red Gerard (snowboarding/men’s slopestyle)

Silver (1):

Chris Mazdzer (luge/men’s singles)

Bronze (2):

Arielle Gold (snowboarding/women’s halfpipe)

U.S. team (figure skating)

[Full NBCOlympics.com medals table]

And finally …

Pita Taufatofua is among the competitors in Thursday’s men’s cross-country 15K (11 p.m., NBCSN). He’s the shirtless guy who is actually on a serious mission for his native land.

“I won’t medal,” he told the Associated Press, “but in four years someone from Tonga might; in eight years, someone from the Pacific might. These kids who are watching now, they’ll have access to something they never knew existed before.”

The world’s in an ugly place right now. Good to see there are people such as Taufatofua for kids to aspire to be. And as for his lack of wardrobe during the frigid Opening Ceremonies, Taufatofua had this to say:

“If my ancestors can sail across the Pacific Ocean for 1,000 years, not knowing where the next piece of land is going to be, not knowing where their next meal is going to be, going to war, then I can walk for 25 minutes through an opening ceremony without a shirt on.”

 

Camera icon David Josek / AP
Pita Taufatofua carries the flag of Tonga during the opening ceremony of the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.