If you didn’t know the name Nathan Chen, you might have heard about him by now. Chen has literally changed the sport of figure skating. A decade ago, the triple jumps were considered to be the best move in skating. The quad jump (4 revolutions) were very rare.

The first successful quad jump completed in competition was done in 1988 by Kurt Browning. Over the next 30 years, athletes have worked to incorporate the quad into their routines with very limited success. Then Nathan Chen came along.

Chen hits quad jumps routinely. In fact, Chen hit a record 5 quads in winning the 2017 US Championship. As you can imagine, Quad jumps add a lot to the score of a figure skater. This success has raised the standard over the past 3-4 years forcing skaters, men and women, to add quadruple jumps or risk being left behind by the competition.

Fast forward to last week when Chen competed for the US in the 2018 Olympic Games in PyeongChang. Chen came out as a potential favorite, but fell repeatedly during his short program ending up in 17th place going into the free skate. It was virtually impossible for him to catch up.

It was in this backdrop of “nothing to lose” when Chen started his free skate. He opened with a quad. Then another. Then another. When all was said and done, Chen broke his own record completing 6 quadruple jumps during his routine. His free skate program was the 5th highest score every recorded. This combined score would have easily won the gold medal in the previous Olympics, but he finished in 5th place due to his poor short program.

There are 2 lessons here:

  1. The Power of Fear – Chen spoke later of all of the pressure building up before his short program. The fear got into his head and he failed to do what he had done thousands of times before. When he had no chance of winning, the fear left him, and he skated one of the best performances in the history of the sport.
  2. The Power of Limits – For years, almost nobody could do the quad, and now lots of people can. What is the difference? A simple truth is whether you think you can do something, or you think you can’t do something, you are probably right. We put limits on ourselves and others every day, and every day, someone crashes through those limits, finding that the extraordinary is more ordinary than we thought.

What fears are holding you back? What limits are you or others placing on you?