Canadian star up against touch competition in U.S phenom Nathan Chen and Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.
PYEONGCHANG, SOUTH KOREA—Here’s a weird factoid: Canada, a figure skating colossus, has never won men’s gold at the Olympics.
A dozen world championships, yeah. But at the Games, the lollapalooza of international sports, there’s always been a hitch, an obstacle, a hair’s-breadth rival’s superiority, like the 5-4 judges’ split in the Battle of the Brians in Calgary, Boitano over Orser. And of course, in the bad old days, they actually had figures in figure skating — go figure — eye-glazing tracing of set patterns on the ice that counted for a chunk of the score, robotics thwarting athleticism and artistry.
Patrick Chan came achingly close in Sochi four years ago but nerve-wracked himself into silver with a bad miss on a simple double Axel late in the program, out-nudged by .54 of a point in the free skate, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu claiming the segment and the Olympic laurels.
From a hopeful Canadian perspective, all eyes will be on Chan, the three-time world champion and 10-time national champion, when the men’s short program competition launches here on Friday. The 27-year-old from Toronto was far from short-sublime in the team event earlier this week, yet still managed third when just about every other male went arse-over-teakettle; then won the free as Team Canada collectively copped gold.
It was a poignant achievement for Chan, getting his hands on a gold medal finally at his third and last Olympics.
A steep mountain to climb in Pyeongchang, surrounded by quad-jumping wizards and artistic masters whose component skills — the deep edges, clean lines, footwork deftness and musical interpretation — are equally sumptuous.
There are so many variables, so much that can go wrong, landing on a blade 3-16th of an inch wide, with a come-down impact 8-10 times the skater’s body weight.
If quad oomph is to decide this contest, the edge should go to teenage American sensation Nathan Chen. Seizing his second title at nationals last month, the high-flying 18-year-old soared 40-plus points clear of his closest competitor. But in the team event, Olympics-debuting Chen bombed spectacularly, the weak link in the U.S. securing bronze, falling on his nemesis triple Axel and turning a quad into a double.
Nervy guy, though. First skater in history to land five quads in a 4 ½ minute free skate. He has two planned for the short, at least five for the long and is apparently considering adding a sixth. Unimaginable.
Chen was a no-show at the U.S. figure skating press conference on Tuesday, no doubt not keen on being bombarded with questions by American reporters. He’s been quietly training on private ice a two-hours drive from Pyeongchang to avoid the media glare. Never been shy about the attention but, like so many who came before him, Chen is discovering that the Olympics is a beast of a different colour. Athletes crack. They think they know what to expect but they really don’t, especially those who are burdened with massive expectations.
Hanyu, meanwhile, was revelling in the thrust and parry with journalist when he was pushed forward at Japan’s presser. The wraith-like 23-year-old, his every movement documented by a passel of national journalist, would have been a sound bet to grab back-to-back Olympic triumphs, not achieved since Dick Button in 1948 and 1952. But Hanyu has hardly been seen over the past season on the Grand Prix circuit, competing only once and then sidelined with an ankle strain — injured on a practice quad Lutz — and withdrawing from his country’s nationals. Two months off the ice completely to heal, only started practising triples three weeks ago, quads two weeks ago.