Drama. That was precisely the word for what happened today in the men's short program at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. Another word for it? Unpredictable. And that was exactly why predicting the results of this competition would be so hard.
The Olympic spirit
No doubt one of the enduring images of these Olympics will be Jeremy Abbott's short program. I have seen few falls in competition as rough as the one that Abbott had in his short program - it was right at the opening, a quad toe gone awry. As a skater, one of the worse things to feel is the prospect of landing forward, because you're likely to be completely spatially disoriented. It was a bad fall, and as he writhed at the boards for over ten seconds, most thought he was probably about to withdraw from the event.
But he didn't.
Somehow, Abbott got up and the adrenaline rushed in. He worked to catch up to his music and hit a triple lutz-triple toe and a triple axel with determination. No doubt he is waking up right now (Sochi time) feeling like he just got hit by a truck, right on the hip.
There will be no individual medal for Abbott at these Olympics, and after that fall, it was something else for him to even qualify for the free skate, in 15th, no less. The Olympics may not be great to him, but he is giving his all to the Olympics nonetheless.
Plushenko out and done
In a lot of ways (and for more than one reason), a lot of people were hoping that Evgeni Plushenko would take his gold from the Team Event and have that be his swan song. After all, he was saying that his back was starting to bother him and it has been tough for him to make it through one full competition for the past few seasons. Common sense was that he would withdraw, but he was still in the event when the deadline for withdrawals came around. Sure enough, he had a rough practice that tweaked his back even more, and his warmup today confirmed it.
His withdrawal was disappointing to the crowd, unfortunate for himself, and likely infuriating to the man who beat him at Russian Nationals, Maxim Kovtun. It's a real shame that the four-time Olympic medalist didn't and couldn't go out on the high note that he had in the Team Event.
Even more surprises
U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown was always going to be the dark horse. And he galloped all the way to the final group after a clean program and mistakes from others who could have gone above his quad-less short. Brown was magnificent, showing the kind of freedom and style that he wowed everyone with at Nationals last month. And now he finds himself sixth going into the free skate, one of nine skaters within 3 1/2 points of the bronze medal. But the great thing about his placement? Getting to skate in the last flight in the free skate.
But the biggest surprise wasn't Brown, it was Germany's Peter Liebers, who is peaking at the exact right time in his career. He's always been a terrific skater, but up until this season, he was inconsistent and had no quad in his arsenal. Well, that's all changed, and he put down a clean program, complete with quad toe-triple toe, to put himself in fifth, just above Brown. Exceptional.
Hanyu and another world record
But the one who stole the show today was Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, trying to become the first Japanese man to win gold in figure skating. He is halfway there, skating a flawless short program, one of the best ever, to post the first-ever score over 100 in and short program or short dance.
Let me say that again. Best. Ever. Anywhere.
He is currently four points ahead of the other big name in the competition, Patrick Chan, who missed the mark with a step out of his triple axel but was otherwise clean. The battle for bronze is between nine (or more), but the battle for gold is down to two. It'll be an intriguing free skate tomorrow.