They say you can’t win a competition with your short program only – but you may just lose the actual chance to fight for the gold.
by Florentina Tone
It was the case with skating legend Yuzuru Hanyu, who finished this particular segment of the men’s event at Beijing Olympics on the 8th place, scoring 95.15 points for a magnificent program to Camille Saint-Saëns’ “Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso” – all brilliant, apart from that split second when he aborted his opening quadruple Salchow.
As popping jumps is not really Yuzuru Hanyu’s thing, the two-time Olympic champion won’t exit the ice without checking that particular section of the rink where his Salchow should have flown in the air.
Fingers on the ice, he knew what just happened – and he would share his immediate reaction to the press in the mixed zone: his skate had encountered a dip on the ice, and he just couldn’t take off.
“I was on some hole, maybe from other skater doing Toe… I don’t know, but I was on that hole, and I couldn’t take off for the first jump”.
Meticulously eying – beforehand, during warm-up – the sections of ice where his jumps are about to be placed, you can actually consider what happened during the actual performance to the always very careful Yuzuru Hanyu as an extreme misfortune.
“This is unlucky”, he remembered thinking at the moment, when he just couldn’t throw himself in the air for that quad. All he could do was to focus on the rest – and the rest was just brilliant. You almost felt the ice, which hasn’t exactly been an ally at the beginning, almost tried to make up for it, allowing him to fly throughout the accents and nuances of his “Rondo Capriccioso”.
“It can’t be helped”, he said at the end. It just happened.
And, if you’re searching for a resemblance, or for something wearing the clothes of a resemblance, think about Gabriella Papadakis’ rhythm dance dress coming undone at the neck, at the previous edition of the Games, affecting the overall performance, the scores – and, eventually, the final result of the ice dance competition in PyeongChang.
A FLASH OF LIGHTNING
At the Olympic Games in Beijing, the third of his career and having won the previous two, established as one of the greatest athletes figure skating has ever seen, Yuzuru Hanyu seemed almost like a streak of lightning. Complete darkness – until a flash lighted the sky.
He was one of the mysteries of the Games, with questions arising from all parts (is he here?; is he in the building, at the practices?; has he flown to Beijing?; in what form is he?) – until he finally arrived, on February 6, two days before the men’s event, ending the stream of unknown and speculations.
But on the ice of Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, on the short program day, Yuzuru Hanyu still looked almost unreal – as if he were a part of a dream. Especially for all of us in Europe, watching Olympic figure skating in the wee hours of the night. And, after a 3-4 minute-presence, Kiss and Cry included, he would vanish again – after making millions of hearts worldwide tremble when his opening flight stopped midair.
His eyes were on the free skate already: “I have one more chance in the free program. I have a lot of time with the music, and many jumps in there”.
CREATING A WORLD OF ITS OWN
Seconds after, another Japanese wonder skater took the ice for his short program: the silver medalist from 2018 Olympics in PyeongChang, Shoma Uno. An incredible talent, who creates a world of its own when he skates – one that we are lucky to feel, to experience.
A certain air surrounds Shoma, a certain aura even, just like the one he forms with his arms, during his trademark pose of his short program to Oboe Concertos by Marcello and Vivaldi.
His sole error? Putting a hand down in support at the end of his quadruple Toe-triple Toe combination, an error which he would later discuss with coach Stéphane Lambiel. And the coach will reassure him: even with an error, a quad Toe-triple Toe combination might worth more points than his (usual) quad Toe-double Toe.
With 105.90 points, a new personal best for him, and scoring more than in the Team Event, the 24-year old Shoma Uno will eventually finish the men’s SP on the 3rd place.
“For today’s performance, I felt a bit unconfident with my jumps”, he said afterwards. “However, I was in good spirit. I had a problem on my combination, I will have to practice it [more]. I will add more complicated and difficult jumps in my free skating. There is one day left to adjust myself, and I will bring the best for the competition”.
Right after Shoma – what an exciting fourth group of skaters at the Olympics! – Korea’s Junhwan Cha, the newly crowned Four Continents champion, is on fire.
And watching him hit all nuances in his short program is just exhilarating – that short program to peculiar music chosen by choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne has become a second skin to Junhwan. He skates to “Fate of the Clockmaker” by Eternal Eclipse and Flynn Hase Spence, and to “Cloak and Dagger” by Bianca Ban – and this music really comes to life in his program.
It didn’t have that kind of impact at the beginning of the season – but, by now, it almost reached perfection.
With 99.51 points, a new personal best for Junhwan as well, he’ll be in 4th place overall – and, surely, ready to attack an Olympic medal.
“I hesitated before the competition, worrying about the results. Despite my nervousness, I was trusting my own competence, and managed to finish this program as I did in my training. I have enjoyed a quite good form from the very beginning of the season”, he said.
THE WONDROUS YUMA
27th skater to take the ice, in the last group of skaters at the Olympics, is 18-year old Yuma Kagiyama – who, despite his young age, is already a World silver medalist, in Stockholm, Sweden, at last Worlds.
Having already skated – with utmost success in the Team Event, winning the men’s free skate and awarding Team Japan the maximum, 10 points – Yuma Kagiyama is already a star of this edition of the Games.
And so he seems stressed, or anxious, or hungry to skate, or all at once when taking the ice. The pressure might have got to him, or the actual acknowledgment he’s one of the best here, in a position to fight for the podium.
His short program – to Michael Bublé’s “When You’re Smiling”, choreographed by Lori Nichol, with touches and refinment by Carolina Kostner at the recent Grand Premio d’Italia in Turin – is a joy to watch. Though, in some parts, it almost seemed too enthusiast, as if the skater himself was so thrilled with the experience of being at the Olympics that he wanted to jump with joy instead.
A feat that we know Yuma is really capable of.
Watching him, you’re amazed: those knees, that elasticity, that wish to take it all in, and show his best, in his Olympic debut. Oh my, Yuma’s enthusiasm is really contagious – and his reaction when seeing the scores, arms fully stretched, is to die for, and amazes even his father and coach. Yuma receives 108.12 points for his program, again a personal best, and he’ll finish the men’s SP on the 2nd place.
And our impression he was stressed? Just an impression, he says.
“This is my first Olympic Winter Games and, to be honest with you, I thought I was going to be very nervous, but from the beginning to the end, I was just having fun skating. As for the jumps, I cannot complain, I had nice landings, but for some steps, my legs were giving up on me, that was a little minus for me. But everything else was quite good”, Yuma commented.
LEAVING NOTHING TO CHANCE
And it’s time for Nathan Chen to extinguish all that was left from his 2018 Olympic demons.
He had done that already, by skating a glorious short program in the Team Event, with the exact same layout he offers now to the worldwide viewers: a quadruple Flip, a triple Axel and a quadruple Lutz-triple Toe in the second part of the program – maybe the boldest content ever tried by a skater in his short program.
Nathan leaves nothing to chance with this short program, he doesn’t let anything adrift – and he surely won’t let anyone come near his much-sought, much-dreamed Olympic gold.
Coming back to his short program to “La Bohème”, skating to the sound of voice of Charles Aznavour, Nathan Chen is just breathtaking in his Olympic short program: the way he carries himself across the ice, arms, fingers in the air, like the ballet-dancer he is… A thing of beauty.
And he has been waiting for this short program to happen for four years already – that exhale, that fist in the air at the end says it all. He’s that relieved.
With 113.97 points – a personal best score for Nathan, not to mention a World record score – he’s in the lead after the men’s SP. That WR score? We think Nathan is happier with the fact that he was able to pull that short program through, with the insane technical content in it, than with the record itself.
“I’d say it’s pretty close to my best. Obviously there are always things you can improve on, there are always things you can do a little bit better, but overall I’m very happy. I just want to stay present, I don’t want to think too far into the future. The more important thing is to recover and get ready for the free program. Be present, enjoy what I was able to do, come fresh tomorrow morning and try to do my best”.
…and a special prize needs to go to Jason Brown – what other short program to top this segment of the men’s event at the Olympics than Jason’s “Sinnerman”, which is an absolute choreographic masterpiece?
The Olympic stage this program deserves – and Jason slayed it.
Or, in hiw own words, with capital letters, he SINNED.
So did we, watching him – a precious end to the men’s SP, that has Jason Brown on the 6th place, with 97.24 points and, you guessed it, another personal best.
PLUS: with no less than 12 skaters scoring above 90 points in their short programs, the event goes down as one of the greatest in Olympic history.
[Feature by Florentina Tone/Photos embedded from Getty Images/Homepage photo: opening of 2022 Olympics © International Skating Union]