The Olympic men’s short program had everything: a lot of drama – Plushenko’s withdrawal (a shock for some, a not so much of a surprise for others), Abbott’s terrible fall (and his unbelievable determination to carry on with the program in spite of the pain), an impressive – and not in the good way – chain of mistakes in the first half of the event; but also an exquisite performance coming from Yuzuru Hanyu and a new world record for the short; and, of course, no less than 11 skaters in contention for the bronze medal, given the fact they are separated by only 5.89 points; a triple jump could easily close the gap. One thing is sure: at least 13 skaters will fight this evening tooth and nail for an Olympic medal – and I for one am looking forward to their encounter.
by Florentina Tone
At 19:55 local time, when he was supposed to take the ice for his short program, the Russian Evgeni Plushenko, with his palms on his back, went to the judges, announcing his intention to withdraw. His face was wry, he looked in pain – but soon after he disappeared after the curtain, the skating fans worldwide couldn’t stop but wonder: was the suffering caused by a jump in the 6-minutes warm-up? Was this an already taken decision by Plushenko and his team, not to go ahead with the men’s individual event, due to his old injuries?
The Russian had already stated after the Team Event that he was experiencing back problems (for those of you not knowing, Plushenko has an impressive number of screws in his back, given his numerous surgeries). And on the morning of the event, he didn’t show up at the official practice in Iceberg Arena, leaving room for speculation; he appeared later, in the practice rink, and a few hours before the start of the event his wife was encouraging him on twitter: “Zhenya, I know how your back hurts, I know that today will probably the most difficult competition in your life!”
Plushenko stated later for the Russian television he had no option but to withdraw: “I used four painkillers yet they didn’t help. But I still went to the end, tried my hardest, and went to the warm ups. I hoped that something magical would happen. It did happen in the team competitions, and I’m very happy about it. But now I need to rest, recover, and continue my figure skating career as businessman or showman. To my fans, I’m very sorry, but I want to stay a healthy man, to walk and move normally, because life doesn’t stop here”.
“The craziest Olympic men’s short program ever so far”
But Plushenko’s withdrawal was just the beginning of a night loaded with emotions. Twenty minutes past 20:00, the American Jeremy Abbott fall badly on his right hip, while trying to land a quadruple jump, and remained stone-still on the ice for a couple of seconds that seemed almost an eternity; and then, all of a sudden, he was back on his feet, nailing wonderfully, though in a hurry, the rest of the elements.
By 21:15, most of the skaters in competition hadn’t been able to rise to the Olympic expectations, making mistakes after mistakes. On facebook, someone pointed out very candidly: “This is the craziest Olympic men’s short program ever so far”. And then, at 21:17, Jason Brown took the ice; and the arena was conquered by this amazing interpretation of “Question of You” by Prince. Some say Jason is the “Transition King” – and rightly so. The American is on the sixth place after the short – and he’ll actually skate last in the final, closing the men’s show.
An incredible start for Yuzuru Hanyu
Opening the group 4 of skaters, the 19-year-old Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu was absolutely fantastic! He got the crowd cheering – and this was really a performance given the fact that the Olympic audience in Iceberg Palace is not as noisy as you would expect. Though he seemed a little stressed before starting his routine, Yuzuru skated a marvel of a program – or should I call it a Wow-Program? “Good boy”, said Brian Orser with a smile and then “Let’s see some good scores”. And the scores were skyrocketing: 101.45 points and a new world record for the short. What an incredible start for Yuzuru, in his attempt to win Japan’s first Olympic gold in men’s figure skating.
The Spanish Javier Fernandez followed – and he struggled to end the program on a higher note. His landings were a little approximate, but he managed to clench to the third place of the intermediate podium, only 0.58 points setting him apart from Daisuke Takahashi, fourth after the short.
Patrick Chan looked too a little stressed – but he managed to land a wonderful quad Toe-triple Toe in the beginning of the program. The triple Axel was, once again, his nemesis, but the Lutz was as good as it gets. All in all, the Canadian seemed a little bit out of sorts during the program, not a hundred percent in the routine – and he was aware of that while waiting for the scores. “Come on, come on, come on”, he mumbled with impatience – and the scores didn’t let him down: 97.52 points – and only 3.93 points separating him from Hanyu.
Skating on Russian folk music, Saint Petersburg-born Alexander Majorov was carried away by the enthusiasm of the audience – and scored 83.81 points (tenth place in the end), while Florent Amodio struggled again with his quad Salchow, only managing a triple, and doing a double Axel instead of a triple. Brian Joubert, on the other hand, hit every jump with utmost precision: a quad Toe-triple Toe, the triple Axel and a triple Lutz. A Joubert as in his best days scored 85.84 points – and seventh place for him in the end.
Peter Liebers: the blue butterfly has finally left the cocoon
Michal Brezina is 12th after the short, putting a hand down on the quad Salchow and only managing a double Toe after the triple Flip. The Czech was followed by Denis Ten, who, I have to tell you, has wonderfully interpreted the piece of music he chose for the short, “Danse macabre”. The program has indeed a lot of potential, but, unfortunately, Denis is not there yet when it comes to his technical elements; the skater from Kazakhstan, silver medalist at 2013 Worlds, is ninth after the short.
Peter Liebers, on the other hand, was definitely the biggest surprise of the evening, nailing a flawless program and managing a fifth place in the end. The German had nerves of steel, not putting a foot wrong during his short and drawing world’s attention on him – as if the blue butterfly has finally left the cocoon. His coach kissed him on the head – and Peter waited his scores with a huge smile (he can smile – and he’ll have to get used to smiling during his performances).
Eight after the short program, the Chinese wonder boy Han Yan nailed one of the finest triple Axels of the evening – but he was let down by his quad and by his triple Toe. One thing is sure: his short program is a joy to watch.
Daisuke Takahashi: greatness on the ice
And there it is, the last but one to skate, the Japanese superstar Daisuke Takahashi – and, definitely, one of the most loved skaters in the world. Having had a tough season caused by injury – he withdrew from the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka due to a bruise bone – Daisuke entered the Olympics with a lot of doubts, mostly after placing fifth at the Japanese Nationals.
In a conversation with Shizuka Arakawa, gold Olympic medalist in Torino-2006, Daisuke seemed to question whether he should have retired after Vancouver-2010: “With so many promising Japanese skaters around, people regard me as an experienced skater. But no one will think much of me if I keep losing. I would have retained a good reputation forever if I had retired after Vancouver, I think. (…) I can’t stop thinking, every once in a while, that it might have been better if I had quit at that time because I started losing more since last season”. Equally sad and equally full of expectations, the dialogue showed a somehow doubtful Daisuke, but at the same time a wonderful man, wanting to end his career in Sochi on a higher note, pleasing his fans all around the world: “I aim to give a 100 percent effort and hope the crowd gives me a standing ovation. That’s the only scene I dream about. Vivid, full of power and confident. I want people to think, «What happened to him in just one month?» That is my image of Daisuke Takahashi. I’ll regret it for the rest of my life if I don’t do this. I’ll show people I have changed”. The story was published by “The Japan News” under the name “Takahashi bows to rebound at Sochi”.
And in the short program at the Olympics, Daisuke aimed to do just that, creating a beautiful and emotional story on the ice – but he was, once again, let down by his nemesis, the quad. As Mao Asada in the Team Event (getting only 1.80 points for her failed triple Axel), Daisuke Takahashi managed to score only 2 points for his (downgraded) quad Toe. It’s hard to see this wonderful skater, capable of greatness on the ice, struggling with the quad – but, with or without the quad jump, Daisuke’s performances are already golden. He’s now in fourth place, only 0.58 points behind Javier Fernandez (and one can dream of a Japanese double in Sochi…).
As for Tatsuki Machida, the third Japanese in Sochi, he’s 11th after the short. I guess I would have had him higher than that but he did miss the triple jump, nailing only a double Lutz.
Well, this pretty much covers the action last night, in Iceberg Palace in Sochi. Make sure you’ll be in front of the TV tonight; you wouldn’t want to miss one of the most exciting Finals of the Winter Olympics in Sochi.