Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu set a breathtakingly high bar two-thirds of the way through the men’s short programs at the Sochi Olympics Thursday, and no rival came close to equaling it.
With it, the 19-year-old skater with impossibly light jumps and teen-idol’s charm took the lead in the men’s competition, with Friday’s free skate to determine the medals. Hanyu earned a season-high 101.45 points.
Canada’s Patrick Chan, the three-time and defending world champion, was the man most likely to overtake the Japanese teen. But he stepped out on a triple axel, a rare mistake, was finished second (97.52).
Spain’s Javier Fernandez was third (86.98).
American Jason Brown (86.00) stands sixth, thrilled with the season-high marks he earned by relying on his artistry and skating skill to compensate for the fact that his program lacks a quadruple jump.
Four-time and defending U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who crashed hard on his opening jump sequence and lay motionless for several seconds before resuming his program, managed 15th (72.58).
The night got off to a shocking start, with Russian skating icon Evgeni Plushenko, competing in his fourth Olympics, abruptly withdrawing after taking the ice for warm-ups. Plushenko, who finished second in the short program and first in the free-skate last week to lead Russia to the new team gold medal, explained afterward that he aggravated his surgically repaired back during training this week and simply was unable to continue.
“I am sorry for my fans and for everybody, but I tried ’til the end,” Plushenko said after coming off the ice. “I almost cried. It’s hard, believe me. This is not how I wanted to end my career. I am very disappointed. But I tried to do my best.”