SOCHI, Russia — Evgeni Plushenko’s sad and shocking withdrawal from the Sochi Games means there won’t be a single Russian in the field of 24 when figure skating crowns its 2014 Olympic champion Friday night. So it’ll be interesting to see how many show up to cheer at the 12,000-seat Iceberg Skating Palace.
Those who do should witness a terrific showdown between the world’s top two men: 19-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, who leads three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada by 3.93 points entering Friday’s free skate.
On Thursday, Hanyu became the first figure skater to top 100 points for a short program, earning 101.45 for a dazzling display of technical rigor and proficiency, opening with a lighter-than-air quad toe loop and following with a triple axel and a triple lutz-triple toe combination.
Chan, a more seasoned competitor, had one glitch and earned 97.52.
In a distant third sits Javier Fernandez of Spain, who lags more than 10 points behind Chan. But three skaters lurk less than one point behind Fernandez, including 19-year-old Jason Brown of Highland Park, Ill., whose sixth (86.00).
Brown’s long program, set to a Riverdance-theme, has been a rousing crowd-pleaser all season, and his rendition at U.S. championships in January became a YouTube sensation. But as the only man among the top six without a quadruple jump (Fernandez plans three; Hanyu and Chan, two apiece), Brown faces a disadvantage in trying to close the gap.
Assuming the gold medal goes to Hanyu or Chan, as is likely, it will be historic either way. No Japanese or Canadian man has ever won individual figure skating gold at an Olympics. And Canada’s efforts have been well-chronicled, with its Olympians delivering four silvers and four bronzes.
Hanyu is scheduled to compete 21st (at 10:23 p.m. ET.), followed by Chan, who’ll have the advantage of knowing precisely what score he needs to clinch the gold. Brown will skate last among the 24 medal contenders.
Three-time defending U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who suffered a terrible fall entering his opening quadruple jump Thursday, will compete ninth (8:21 p.m.).