But like prizefighters refusing to concede, both popped back up and carried on, salvaging programs with calamitous beginnings to claim the silver and bronze medals, respectively, in the first Grand Prix event of the international figure skating season.
Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who led the field of eight men following Friday’s short program, staged a dazzling display of jumps, including a flawlessly rendered quadruple toe, to win gold with a total score of 265.38 points.
Performing to Stravinski’s “Firebird” in a black and red outfit adorned with red feathers, Machida stacked the front of his program with two quads and the rest with seven triples — three of them placed in the late stages of the four-and-a-half minute program.
Rippon’s second-place finish (241.24) was the best Grand Prix showing of his career, well earned for a graceful and cleverly choreographed long program with elegant transitions and artful variations on his spins.
If Rippon played the figure-skating equivalent of a faun in his performance, Aaron played a bull. A former junior hockey player, Aaron chocked his long program with three difficult quadruple jumps on the theory that points earned for the technical rigor of his performance would compensate for what he lacks in his still-developing artistry.
And though Aaron stumbled in one fashion or another on each quad — two-footing the landing on his first Salchow and putting a hand down to keep himself upright on his second — his fundamental strategy was sound. He earned the night’s second-highest “element scores” for his program’s degree of difficulty, which helped close the gap for his sixth-place score on the more artistic aspects, such as interpretation, execution and transitions.
Whether the total package is enough to earn Aaron a spot in the Sochi Olympics is unclear. The United States has been allotted just two spots for men’s singles at the 2014 Winter Games. Less than four months out, it’s difficult to identify the front-runners.
But Aaron made clear after his performance that he intends to stick with his high-stakes strategy.
“It didn’t go as planned today,” said Aaron, 21, who was mired in sixth entering the free skate, having fallen during his opening quad in Friday’s short program, as well. “But I’m not gonna back down. I’m not afraid of it. I want that three quad program! That’s what’s going to set me apart in the U.S.”
And he had a word for the critics behind the e-mails and tweets that criticize his efforts and question the marks he receives for the ambitious programs that might be beyond his grasp just now.
“I take that into practice with me,” Aaron said, explaining that doubters only drive him to work harder to prove his point.