He started figure skating only a few years before, using the skates of his sister and sleeping in his car in order to pursue his Olympic dreams.
Chen was there to support Arutyunyan ten years later as his scores were read, and that dream became a reality.
The 22-year old Yale student won the gold medal at Thursday's Beijing Games with a near perfect free skate, following a -setting short program. He was the American figure skating champion for the first time since Evan Lysacek (2010). This marked the end of a four-year dominating run in American figure skating history.
"My mom and me grew up very poor. Chen stated that we didn't really have much money. "She would just try to scrape together some dollars to pay Raf. But Raf clearly knew the situation and was able to continue taking me in and taking as much as we could.
Chen stated that Arutyunyan might give the money back occasionally, but that he would still prefer to keep it in his pocket.
Chen was able Thursday to give his coach something priceless.
"I'm happy. Arutyunyan stated that he was just emotional. He made it.
Chen won all five quads at the Capital Indoor Stadium in China, where his parents immigrated. He was performing his "Rocketman", a program that featured Elton John's soaring score. He finished his statistics and data science major with an unsurmountable 332.60 points. This is just three points shy of his world record and 22 ahead of his nearest competition. Yuma Kagiyama of Japan won silver and Shoma Unio took bronze.
Chen put aside any memories of his terrible disappointment in Pyeongchang four years ago. He was not even allowed to skate a free, which would have been enough to save his medal hopes.
He said, "It's the best thing in the world." "I'm so happy!"
Chen may not win the gold medal this time around.
The Americans earned silver in Monday's team event behind Russia. They were waiting for confirmation from the IOC/International Skating Union that there were no legal issues with the medal ceremony. This could be due to doping allegations against Kamila Valieva, their biggest star. It could also lead to Chen winning the gold medal.
Chen stated, "I don't feel like I'm qualified to talk about it." "Whatever happens will be the case but I'm still engrossed in what I was capable of doing today."
Salt Lake City native Vincent Zhou did his part to support the American team by presenting a winning short skate last Friday. Vincent Zhou, who had to withdraw from the individual event because of a positive COVID-19 testing, will also be awarded a gold medal by the U.S. as he did his free skate on Sunday.
Chen was a down-to-earth, suave competitor, and he separated himself from the field during his short programs. Chen broke the world record with an impeccable performance to "La Boheme." Kagiyama, Uno, and Chen made enough mistakes to make it possible for Chen to be crowned.
Uno performed to "Bolero", one of the most beloved musical selections at the Beijing Games. Uno under-rotated quad toe loop and quad salchow, then was dinged late in the program for his combination spin, finishing with 293 points.
Kagiyama (18 years old), who performed to the music of "Gladiator", popped his triple-toe loop and triple salchow. Although it was enough to score 310.05 points, and earn a fist-pump in the kiss-and cry area, Chen was not feeling any pressure. Chen was skating calmly across the placid surface as Kagiyama's score read.
Chen flew through his first quad salchow in front of a crowd that was socially distant and millions watching back at home from Beijing on Thursday afternoon. Chen landed four more flawless quads, with his only minor bobble being on a late combination sequence. He couldn't stop smiling as he seemed to reach for the skies.
It was fitting that the lyrics of "Rocketman", which played through the old home for ping-pong diplomacy, were "And I think its gonna be long, long before touchdown brings me back around again,"
Chen enjoyed the spotlight on the ice and then went off to hear the scores. They were now a formality. Chen's longtime coach raised one arm like a champion boxer after the scores were read.
American Jason Brown said, "He deserves it," and was sixth in. "I have had the opportunity to compete with him at every world championship, every national championship and the Grand Prix over the past four years. He is the most deserving. He was so dedicated. He is so talented. It's a privilege to be a teammate.
Chen was the shining star, but it seemed that the spotlight was fading for his Japanese rival and long-time hero.
Yuzuru Hanyu arrived to Beijing with the goal of becoming the first man's skater to win an Olympic gold medal since Gillis Grafstrom (1928). The 27-year old was unable to complete his program due to an ankle injury that had kept him from skating for most of the year. This effectively ruled him out of any medal contention.
Hanyu's last act was to attempt the quad axel. This 4 1/2 revolution jump has never been attempted in competition. He was close, but couldn't hold the landing. After that, he fell on his quad salchow. This was his last performance on Olympic ice.
Hanyu was fourth with his score, just one medal behind his two teammates.
Of course, the American champion.