Gangneung, South Korea • In need of decompression, Nathan Chen knows where to turn.
First, his phone. Then his social media accounts, where in the haze of comments, requests and likes, he gets to be not Nathan Chen, the 18-year-old figure skating phenom at his first Olympic Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea, but instead just another ordinary fan of his hometown team. One of the first things he must do is get a game update.
A few hours after the Utah Jazz stormed back at home to beat the San Antonio Spurs, notching their 10th straight win, Chen was in the Olympic athlete village on the coast in Gangneung.
And like the rest of Jazz Nation, he was feeling it.
“Ten in a row?” he said a couple hours after Utah’s longest such streak since 2009. “That’s pretty solid.”
Chen’s Jazz fandom is like most — family-oriented. Growing up, his dad and two older brothers were huge fans. The youngest of five siblings, he’s regularly said in interviews leading up to these Games that whatever his older siblings did, he followed suit. Born and raised in Salt Lake City, he relocated to Southern California at the age of 12 to train full-time with his coach.
Every one needs an outlet. Even a teenage figure skating sensation with the eyes of the world fixated on every twitch of his blade on the ice.
“It’s something that’s still sports-related and it definitely inspires me, motivates me, but also just takes my mind off skating,” he said. “I moved out of California from Utah, but I definitely miss Utah and feel like Utah is really my home.”
Tracking the Jazz closely for an NBA season allows him to feel like he’s “a part of Utah, just through the Jazz.”
The folks at Vivint Smart Home Arena took notice, too.
After dominating his second straight U.S. national championship event on January 6, which cemented his spot on the Olympic team, the Jazz acknowledged the hometown kid on the team’s official Twitter account. They also sent him a special package of Jazz gear with his last name and the number 18.
“That,” he said, “was super awesome.”
Between the personal and sponsored posts on his own account, and figure skating fans hoping for a peek behind the curtain, Chen is retweeting Donovan Mitchell or videos of Ricky Rubio full-court passes.
Chen’s main moment is only days away. After struggling in the men’s short program in the team event, the pressure has heightened. The rest of U.S. team rallied after his fourth-place finish and eventually won bronze in the team event.
“They definitely pulled through for me,” he said. “Ultimately, I was very, very proud and it was incredible to get a piece of hardware that represents your hard work, but there’s still a lot more to come and I need to focus on that.”
He’ll have the Jazz, going for an 11th straight win against the Phoenix Suns on Wednesday night at home, to be there for him to provide the off-ice entertainment. And he’s joining the groundswell campaign for Mitchell, Utah’s first-year superstar.
“He’s really killing it,” Chen said. “Rookie of the Year, hopefully.”