Sochi recap: Figure skating, men’s free skate

A comedy of errors in the Olympics sees Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu win because they’d already bought a gold medal and had to give it to someone.

Date: 14-Feb

Sport: Figure skating

Event: Men’s free skate

Medalists: Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan), Patrick Chan (Canada), Denis Ten (Kazakhstan)

SportsMyriad projections: Patrick Chan (Canada), Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan), Daisuke Takahashi (Japan)

How U.S. fared: Jeremy Abbott had already won over the crowd with his determination in finishing his short program after a horrible fall. Still in pain, he changed his quad to a triple and a triple-triple to a triple-double, and Johnny Weir thought he looked tense. But the program was clean, getting positive Grades of Execution (GOE) on each element, and the crowd enjoyed his creative moves to a Muse soundtrack. His free skate score was a personal-best 160.12. His total of 232.70 was second through the first two groups, just 0.29 behind the Czech Republic’s Tomas Verner, and he wound up 12th.

Jason Brown was among the gaggle of skaters with a legitimate chance at a bronze medal after the short program, but given the lack of high-scoring elements in his program (in other words, no quad), he needed to be perfect, and he wasn’t. Not bad, though, and he took ninth.

What happened: You can always count on the guy from Uzbekistan to bring things to life. Misha Ge, with a lopsided scarlet hairstyle, skated to a medley of dance tunes, ending with Tutti Frutti and finishing in the same pose as Val Kilmer in Top Secret. The judges only gave him a 6.43 in choreography because they’re squares. He, Abbott and quad-master Kevin Reynolds of Canada were the highlights of the second group.

All 12 remaining skaters came in with a legitimate shot at the podium, but no one in the second-to-last group really impressed. Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten, a contender coming in but only ninth after a wobbly short program, put one hand down on a jump but otherwise made few errors, moving into first at 255.10.

And yet Ten’s score stood up as the first two of the last group simply didn’t take advantage of the opportunity. Spain’s Javier Fernandez stepped out of a couple of elements; Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi didn’t convert any of his three biggest jumps.

Surely Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the leader after the short program, would put things right. Nope. He fell on his opening quad. Johnny Weir and Tara Lipinski assured the NBCSN audience that he has recovered from similar mistakes to win in the past. Then he fell again. He still took the lead over Ten but was nowhere near the score he wanted.

So surely Canada’s Patrick Chan, the three-time world champion, would assume control, right? When he landed his quad-triple combination, it certainly seemed that way. Then it all started to go wrong. Two hands down on his next quad. Two more hands down as he spun out of control on a triple axel. Another awkward landing. Added up the numbers, and … Hanyu kept the lead. In fact, Hanyu had a higher free skate score than Chan — 178.64 to 178.10 — to add to his lead from the short program.

Those would be the gold and silver medalists despite all the errors. The battle was on for bronze with two skaters left and Denis Ten trying to hang on.

Germany’s Peter Liebers came into the evening with a 1.98-point lead over Ten and an 0.04-point lead over Jason Brown. He wiped out on his opening quad and was downgraded on a triple axel.

So Brown had the open door to win an improbable bronze if he could just skate his relatively simpler program more cleanly than the others had done. But he still needed a career best to reach the medals, and a couple of shaky landings early wiped away that chance.

It was Hanyu, Chan and Ten. None of whom skated well, but they dared to attempt tough jumps and won a battle of attrition.

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