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Chen's performance puts him in a good position to win gold ahead of the free skate

LEILA FADEL, HOST:

Today was one of those wow days at the Winter Olympics. There were exciting performances in one of the oldest Winter Olympic sports, figure skating, and the newest, big air in freestyle skiing. NPR sports correspondent Tom Goldman is with us from Beijing. Hi.

TOM GOLDMAN, BYLINE: Mr. Wow here (laughter).

FADEL: Yep. We have to start with figure skating and American Nathan Chen. He did some wonderful things on the ice, right? But I gather there's more to the story than that.

GOLDMAN: Yeah, there is. Nathan Chen is a gold medal favorite in men's individual skating, but he came to China looking for redemption, too. And we love redemption stories. Four years ago, he had a really bad short program. That's the first and shorter of two performances in the competition. It was so bad it ruined his chance for a medal. So he came into today's short program with a lot of pressure. You know, hearing the constant reporters' questions about the debacle of 2018, that's a lot to carry. But he delivered. He hit his two quadruple revolution jumps. He skated beautifully. He let out a whoop and a fist pump at the end. It was a rare emotional display for him, and he talked about it afterwards.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED RECORDING)

NATHAN CHEN: I have no idea what came over me. I don't generally do stuff like that, but it just felt right. And I wasn't really thinking, honestly. I just was really happy. And I guess that just came out.

GOLDMAN: Now, Leila, his score confirmed that happiness. The 113.97 points were a short-program world record.

FADEL: So is he the favorite heading into the longer free skate on Thursday?

GOLDMAN: Yeah, he is. But, you know, there's the potential for Thursday to be a great competition because all the top guys are skating well. In fact, you know, that's what made Chen's performance today so impressive. The guys skating right before him were fantastic, and the closest skaters to him are two from Japan - Yuma Kagiyama, he's about 5'2" but skates really big; and then Shoma Uno, he won the silver medal at the last Winter Olympics. And there are a couple of other skaters who have a shot depending on how everyone performs.

FADEL: So let's turn to the new sport, big air. Just from the name, I'm getting vertigo. What is it?

GOLDMAN: (Laughter).

FADEL: What made today's debut exciting?

GOLDMAN: Yeah. You know, the skier in big air, not big hair, stands at the top of a steep hill looking down at a big ramp that's going to fling them high into the air, you know, where they perform tricks and hope to land on their skis. I'm getting vertigo talking about it. Today's excitement was - the winner in the women's event was Eileen Gu. And it's impossible to be in China and not know Eileen Gu. She was born in San Francisco to a Chinese mother. She announced a few years ago she would stop competing as a freestyle skier for the U.S. and instead compete for China. That has obviously made her incredibly popular here. She has endorsement deals with Chinese companies and constant commercials on Chinese TV. She speaks fluent Mandarin, along with English. She's a model. She got accepted to Stanford. She won a gold medal, Leila, and she's 18.

FADEL: Wow.

GOLDMAN: I do not feel worthy. But quite a remarkable young woman, and we'll get to see her two more times in two events.

FADEL: Sports correspondent Tom Goldman, Mr. Wow himself, joining us from the Beijing Winter Olympics. Thank you, Tom.

GOLDMAN: (Laughter) You're welcome. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.