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2014 Winter Olympics

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Opining on Sochi: Risky programs, a bit of irony, and national firsts

The men's free skate took place yesterday at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia. And it was Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu who became the first from his country to ever win Olympic gold in men's figure skating. He bested Canadian Patrick Chan - and though both had mistakes, it was Hanyu's short program that made the difference.

Photos from the men's figure skating medal ceremony at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia
Photo by Streeter Lecka/Getty Images

Related: Opining on invalidations
Related: Opining on the men's short

There was something underwhelming about the men's free, though. And it wasn't only the mistakes, it was the way that the results laid out because of IJS rules. I had a look at the uncharacteristically high number of invalidations in the men's free skate already. Let's look at the rest of the competition.

Lots of quads, lots of mistakes
With the extreme riskiness of the programs that were planned in Sochi, it was not at all a surprise that clean programs were hard to find. What was a surprise, however, was that neither of the top two were anywhere close to clean, with only the bronze medalist being the only one in the top five skating with no major mistakes.

We should be talking about the historic nature of the podium yesterday - the first Japanese man to ever win gold in figure skating and the first Kazakh skater to ever win a medal in any figure skating discipline. Instead, we are talking about the messiness of the competition.

But that's precisely what is going to happen when programs are this difficult. We've seen that at the past few World championships, only without the very top skaters having that many major mistakes. On this night in Sochi, as luck would have it, things just didn't fall into place for either of the top two. And, most certainly, Hanyu is thanking his lucky stars for skating that incredible short program that he did.

Abbott cleanest of them all
How ironic, then, is the fact that the guy with the cleanest skate of the entire men's free skate was none other than American Jeremy Abbott, who had that nasty wipeout in the short program only to get up and not make another mistake after that. The catch was that he replaced his quad toe with a triple toe and replaced his triple loop, a jump that he couldn't do with his sore hip, with a double axel. If it weren't for the excessive time violation deduction in the short program, he would have finished tenth.

A few have asked me to offer insights into Abbott's PCSs. Yes, they should have been higher, but it really came down to timing. Because he was in the early groups in both the short program and the free skate, it's just (unfortunately) natural for component marks to be lower than they otherwise would be if he had been in the later groups.

Scoring momentum - it still exists in figure skating, even though it's not supposed to.

Swan songs all over
Before we turn out sights to ice dance, I want to note the number of "last Olympics" (and likely "last competition") programs that we saw yesterday.

There was Olympic bronze medalist Daisuke Takahashi, who couldn't muster up his quad and finished sixth. There was former European champ Tomas Verner, who skated solidly for 11th. There was 2007 World champ Brian Joubert, who was in his fourth Olympics and finished 13th. And then, of course, there was Abbott and Evgeni Plushenko, the latter of whom skated his final Olympic program earlier in the week.

All great champions. All mark the end of an era.

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