At an Olympics on home soil, Russian figure skaters mean business.
They have set aside the disappointments of finishing the Vancouver Olympics with no gold medals for the first time in memory, and are going for gold, early, in the team event.
Russia is in first place with 19 points after the men’s and pair’s team events, while Canada, ranked first going into the event, is second with 17 points and China is third with 15 points.
Canadian hope Patrick Chan finished third in the men’s short program behind Japanese rival Yuzuru Hanyu and a rejuvenated Evgeny Plushenko, competing at his fourth Olympics.
Zhenya, as they call him back home, has won one gold (Turin) and two silver medals (Salt Lake City and Vancouver), but has never had to contend with a team event before. Nobody has.
Skating to his short program that has garnered him world records in the past, Chan opened with a quad toe and landed it forwardly, just enough that he could stick only a double toe, rather than a triple, on the end of it. That earned him 12.17 points, compared to Plushenko’s powerful quad-triple ( 16.40). Chan then stepped out of a triple Axel and he landed a triple Lutz a little back at the heel, seemingly tense. It put him in a bit of a hole, but he finished with a good score: 89.71.
Hanyu didn`t do a quad combination, but opened with a quad that just soared, good for 12.44 points, more than Chan got for his quad combo. Hanyu skated with complete confidence, even swagger, finishing with near record 97.98 points (Hanyu holds the short program world record of 99.84.)
Plushenko is in second place with 91.39, a marvellous result for a skater who has competed only five times in the past two years. Plushenko appeared at the top of his game, skating with plenty of snap and verve, although he front-loaded his programs with jumps (it worked for him) and wobbled on his Lutz and a spin, for which he received a level two.
“All of the jumps weren’t great,” Chan said of his performance afterward. “But in a way, I’m glad I did that here. It was good to get the jitters out.” He’ll hand the baton off to Kevin Reynolds, who will skate the long program on Sunday.
“It wasn’t the best,” Chan admitted. “But I’ve learned that I enjoy what I do. The crowd was great and I could feel the energy out there. That’s why I do this. Winning and getting a medal would be great, but at the end of the day, it’s not why I’m out there.”
He said he did not watch Plushenko because he “wanted to get in my own world instead of someone else’s.”
The biggest letdown was by Jeremy Abbott, who missed both his quad and his triple Axel and finished seventh of 10 men. The quad didn’t snap into the air as high as he would have liked.
“It’s a very unfortunate day for my teammates,” he said. “I’m torn about it….Now I just have to shake off the demons. We all know I have a lot of demons…But I’ve had my Olympic disaster and now I can move on.” Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapir helped the US rise to a tie for fifth position with a good skate. Only the top five teams move on to the final on Sunday. The United States had been rated third going into the event, but it still has strong dance and women’s competitors to come.
Canada’s world bronze pair medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford helped the Canadian cause by finishing second in the pair short program with one of the best short programs of their career, hardly putting a foot wrong. It is the first Olympics for both of them, although she is 28, he 29. When they skated, the Canadian kiss-and-cry area was packed with teammates.
Not only do they deliver the most difficult tricks in the world (throw triple Lutz and solo triple Lutzes), Duhamel and Radford also accomplished a beautiful triple twist, and a very interesting, difficult entry into a back inside death spiral, all to Radford’s own musical composition, “Tribute.”
“After the men’s short program, we had a little extra pressure after Patrick,” Duhamel said. “He was in third place. We were: ‘We have to do it for the team.’”
Radford said the experience was memorable. “It was amazing,” he said. “Everything about it. It all just happened. Our goal was to be top two….We just put ourselves in a little bubble. We had high expectations.”
Perhaps Plushenko had the hardest job, skating in front of his home crowd.
“It was so difficult to calm down,” he said. “So difficult with applause from there, from behind, from everywhere. It was like I was knocked down. It was difficult, but it also helped.”
“I am so happy I can skate with 18-year-old guys,” said the 31-year-old. “I skated for my fans and I skated for my young sons.”
On Saturday, ice dancers and women skate their short programs.
Photos: Patrice Lapointe