- Figure Skating
Olympic-sized nerves take center stage in men's final
SOCHI, Russia – There was no golden finish at the end, no flourish to go along with victory, no fists pumped overhead after four long years – and a lifetime – of training. At the end of his winning free skate Friday night at the Iceberg Skating Palace, Yuzuru Hanyu instead stayed crouched on one knee, seemingly afraid to look up.
It was one of the most dramatic finishes to an Olympic figure skating event in the recent past, but not because of its quality: Fall after fall, tentative edge after botched combination, the men’s free skate played out like a scratched CD that no one could hit the “next” button on, lurching and dragging the crowd through 45 minutes of athletic melodrama.
RESULTS: Men's figure skating
“The entire men’s competition – aside from Yuzuru’s short program and Denis Ten’s free skate – was void of any passion,” said two-time Olympian Johnny Weir, an NBC Sports analyst. “It was not a good men’s event. It seemed as if everyone was overcome by the nerves of the situation.”
Most notably Canadian Patrick Chan, who four years after the experiencing the weight of the Vancouver Olympics had won three straight World Championships and was seen to have the best chance to break the “Canadian curse,” a streak in which Canadian world champions have faltered on the Olympics stage. In the end, however, Chan did just that.
“Today was a difficult day,” said Chan, 22, after his performance. “We all had rough skates. Sometimes it’s who makes the least amount of mistakes. I made one too many mistakes. It’s the Olympics and so maybe that got to me.”
Embedded owg_slideshow: Photos: Yuzuru Hanyu takes top spot in men's figure skating short program in Sochi Olympics
Chan becomes the fifth world champion from Canadian (who altogether have won 12 World Championships) to fail to win gold at the Olympics.
“I can’t really think back to a moment like that in the Olympics,” said Tara Lipinski, the 1998 Olympic champion who also commentates for NBC. “Tonight no one looked like they wanted to win. They were all in their heads. At the end of the day it comes down to who scores the most points, and Yuzuru didn’t let that program go.”
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American hopes pinned on Jason Brown, he of viral “Riverdance” fame from the U.S. Championships, who skated last and had a legitimate shot at capturing bronze with an error-free program. Brown, though, was the epitome of nerves, two-footing his landings, skating tentatively and at one point stopping his forward movement into a double Axel completely, then executing the jump a second later.
“He’s 19 now, but that’s going to go away very quickly,” Weir said. “He should seriously wonder about his performance here. Next year he could be world champion if he sticks to his guns and learns the quad. But he has to be serious about it.”
A seriously good skate came from Denis Ten, who was ninth after the short program, and was the first skater in the third group. The 20 year old from Kazakhstan performed cleanly in his “Young Lady,” free skate, perhaps one of only a handful to do so all evening. He watched from the athlete’s cool-down room as skater after skater hit the ice (literally), eventually being told to put back his costume for the on-ice flower ceremony.
“I root for beautiful figure skating,” Ten told reporters. “I didn’t watch every skate from the beginning to the end, but it was a battle. When you’re on the ice you’re fighting against yourself. It was an interesting event. To me, I enjoyed watching Patrick and Yuzuru. I was wondering who was going to win.”
Embedded video_content_type: Yuzuru Hanyu explodes with short program world record
Hanyu, too, wondered on the ice. He stayed on one knee for a good few seconds as the crowd applauded him, unsure if the four-point lead he had following the short program was enough of a cushion.
“I fell after my first jump so I thought the gold was not in my hands,” said Hanyu, who is Japan’s first men’s figure skating gold medalist at the Olympics. “But in the end my legs started to get tired. There were some negative feelings brewing inside of me. But, I was able to still get the gold.”
Weir, himself sixth at the Vancouver Games, said that Hanyu’s strong second half of the program, in which he skated cleanly, was the overall difference between gold and silver.
“He won with his smoothness, his fight; the way that he was a warrior,” Weir said. “I felt like today Patrick gave up halfway through his program, you could see it written on his face. But Yuzuru fought until the end and whether you succeed or not, you have to fight to be Olympic champion.”
Embedded video_content_type: Patrick Chan: Perfection on and off the ice
“I thought it was going to be Patrick,” Lipinski added. “But after the warm-up I changed my mind because he looked so scared; he looked like he was backing away from his jumps. I can’t understand what went wrong for him after a beautiful first element.”
“What this goes to show is that the Olympics is an event that you can’t prepare for,” Lipinski continued. “The amount of pressure that they’re under is so extreme. When you step on the ice you have so many things running through your head, and you normally don’t have that at other competitions.”
It was a cringe-worthy final result for the Americans: Brown was ninth and Jeremy Abbott 12th. That’s the worst U.S. performance in men’s singles at the Olympics since the 1936 Winter Games, when Robin Lee was 12th.
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“It slipped out of my hands; it happens,” Chan said, shrugging. “Sometimes the best athletes in the world make mistakes, and it happens in at the Olympics.”
Weir, who withdrew his name from Olympic qualifying procedures with U.S. Figure Skating in September, was left shaking his head.
“Honestly – woulda, coulda, shoulda,” Weir said. “If I would have known the event would have ended up this way I would have stuck to my guns and tried [to compete].”
A small solace for the now-retired Weir?
“I do have an Olympic-winning costume,” he said, referring to the attire he outfitted Hanyu in. “That’s the closest I’ll ever get to an Olympic medal.”
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