By Web Editor Jonathan Ko & Staff Writer Karen Li
Going into the Men Single Skating Short Program event, skaters and spectators alike had high expectations after many disappointing performances in the team short program event.
Defending Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan once again dominated the competition with his beautifully executed program on February 16. Even after suffering a recent ankle injury, the 23-year-old showcased his artistic mastery and technical ability in his skate to Chopin’s Ballade No. 1. He nailed his confident opening quad salchow, followed with a solid triple axel, and finished with a clean quad toeloop-triple toeloop combination. Having trained under the same coach as retired Olympic gold medalist Yuna Kim, Hanyu is especially known for his effortless technical precision, securing a total score of 111.68 and winning the short program event.
Spanish skater and second-place finisher Javier Fernández had an amazing performance, landing solid jumps including a quad toeloop. China’s Jin Boyang also performed relatively well, finishing in fourth place. The two-time World bronze medalist displayed a consistent quad lutz-triple toeloop combination, which received a record-breaking 19.19 element score. While Boyang lacked edging and footwork ability, the 18-year-old put his full-potential on show with a short program score of 103.32.
Fellow Japanese skater Shoma Uno, who was the top finisher in the team event, also had a wonderful start to the single skating events, placing third with his score of 104.17. Stepping out of his compatriot’s shadow, the 20-year-old proved his success in his first Olympic debut. He landed a quad flip and a quad toeloop-triple toeloop combination. Although Hanyu was more artistically advanced, Uno brought pure emotion out of “Winter” by Antonio Vivaldi.
However, crowd favorite US Skater Nathan Chen, 18, delivered another disappointing program, almost mirroring his team event performance. Throughout the entire Olympic coverage leading up to the event, media focused heavily on Chen, promoting his skating through multiple advertisements. Perhaps overwhelmed by nerves and pressure, he made costly technical mistakes. The bewildered skater fell on his opening quad lutz, stepped out of his triple axel, and failed to execute a solid combination jump, losing major points. Judges scraped together a score of 82.27 for Chen, pushing him down to 17th, below fellow Americans Adam Rippon, 28, and Vincent Zhou, 17.
Zhou’s artistic take on “Chasing Cars” by Snow Patrol was sufficient but not outstanding, and his jumps had rather unstable landings. However, Zhou completed a successful quad lutz in his first performance on Olympic ice, placing 12th with 84.53 points. The feat made history; Zhou, skating chronologically before Fernandez and other legendary skaters in the event, was the first skater ever to perform the quad lutz at the Olympics.
In seventh place after the short program event, Rippon highlighted his love for this sport in his skate to Ida Corr vs Fedde Le Grand’s “Let Me Think About It.” However, like in the team event, Rippon’s artistic mastery could not overcome his relatively low difficulty level; he had no quads in his program and could not realistically compete with the field.
A month before the PyeongChang Olympics began, four-time Olympic medalist Russian former figure skater Evgeni Plushenko said to the Associated Press that these Games would be “the most interesting Olympics in history.” In the free skate, his words turned out to be true. With the long programs allowing for eight jumps per competitor, several historic performances took place in the free skate.
Hanyu did not disappoint, delivering a customarily commanding four-quad performance en route to the gold medal. Poor execution on two jumps left his otherwise spotless technical score at a respectable but not outstanding 109.55. But Hanyu really feasted in the component score, leveraging his artistic mastery to the tune of an event-best 96.62. As the Japanese skater won the event at the 2014 Olympics as well, he became the first repeat champion since Former US Figure Skater Dick Button in 1948 and 1952.
It would have been understandable if Uno’s 20-year-old legs succumbed to the incredible pressure that comes with skating last after legends like Hanyu and Fernandez, but the 5’ 3” Japanese skater stood tall in his free skate, audaciously attempting two of his four quads late in his program to maximize his technical score. A fall on his opening quad loop and a poor landing on a quad toeloop later in the program brought his technical score down, but he still managed a whopping 111.01 points in the technical category. His beautiful artistry, although not quite on Hanyu’s level, held up enough to deliver Japan a silver medal in the event.
Fernandez, who heartbreakingly placed fourth at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, finally earned his first Olympic medal, bronze, with a near-perfect program. He nailed his two quad attempts, but because his program’s technical difficulty paled in comparison to many others in the field, his technical score came out to just 101.52. However, the six-time consecutive European champion delivered a fantastic display of artistic machismo in his skate to “Man of La Mancha” by Joe Darion and Mitch Leigh en route to a component score of 96.14, barely behind eventual gold medalist Hanyu.
Perhaps the most inspiring story of the free skate is that of Chen. Hailed as the “Quad King” prior to the Olympics and expected by many to make the podium, Chen failed miserably in the short program. Going into the long program, Chen had little left to lose, and as such attempted a completely unprecedented six quads in his free skate. He received deductions on one, but executed the other five masterfully. The result was an absolutely astounding technical score of 127.64, dwarfing the rest of the field. Largely off of his technical brilliance, Chen had the highest score of the free skate event. Redemptive as it was, the program was not enough to overcome his abysmal performance in the short, and Chen ended at 5th place overall.
Zhou also acquitted himself admirably on the international stage. The Palo Alto native had the second-most quads in his program behind Chen, with a whopping five attempts. Though several of his jumps were executed messily, Zhou stood up on every jump and finished sixth overall in the event.
Rippon once again performed a no-quad program to near perfection, but due to the low difficulty placed just tenth overall.
Graphic by Graphics Editors Evangeline Chang & Victor Zhou