Olympic men's figure skating field has no clear favourite
Canada’s Patrick Chan among gold-medal group
PJ'S PODIUM PICKS
Gold: Patrick Chan (CAN)
Silver: Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN)
Bronze: Javier Fernandez (ESP)
The Olympic men’s competition has been weighing on my mind. There have been flashes of brilliance from quite a few of the men, but not enough to indicate any clear favourite.
What changed my mind were the performances I saw during the team event short programs, and my expectation of how skaters might react.
Yuzuru Hanyu is the current national Japanese champion, and was dazzling enough to win the short last week. He was so dazzling, in fact, that I am not sure that he will be able to repeat that kind of performance. I expect him to be good, really good, just maybe not quite as good as his team event performance.
Canada’s Patrick Chan, on the other, hand looked a little spooked and finished the short program in third, behind Hanyu and Russian Evgeni Plushenko. My observation of Chan is that he always seems to rise to the occasion after a wake-up call.
I think being at his less than best might be just the motivation he needs to prevail here in Sochi. He is the three-time and defending world champion, after all, and has been working his whole life to this moment.
One thing is for sure: coming out with all guns blazing in the short program is the best way to set up success in the free skate final and a medal-worthy spot.
Plushenko’s continuation in the competition is a bit of a surprise to me after being part of Russia’s gold medal-winning team. It is clear that with surgery to replace a disc in his back about a year ago would mean that he is still not at his optimum strength.
I would have thought that he might have considered withdrawing in favour of a substitution. His short program is entirely competitive but his free lacks the stamina to really lead him to the top.
There is a lot of what I like to call figure standing and not figure skating in his free program – an understandably aspect in an effort to conserve energy. That said, you have to love his chutzpah. That ‘go for it’ attitude is both compelling and inspiring.
Others to watch
There are other men to watch who could easily get on to the podium:
Javier Fernandez snapped to attention recently at the European championship and took his second consecutive title after a somewhat sleepy Grand Prix season. As one of Spain’s premier athletes at these Games and nation’s opening ceremony flag-bearer, there is a lot riding on his shoulders and I think he is up to the challenge.
Denis Ten is the reigning world silver medallist whose magical free program at the worlds in London in March of 2013 overtook Chan’s. With equipment problems having plagued him to this point, I hope that Sochi shows him the turnaround that he needs.
Veteran competitor Daisuke Takahashi is the 2010 Olympic bronze medallist whose lacklustre fifth-place performance at his nationals almost kept him away from these Olympics. However, Japanese Skating Federation still named him to the Olympic team. He is as artistic as he is technically proficient and has been one of the bright lights leading the way for Japanese men.
Canada’s Kevin Reynolds finished fifth at the 2013 worlds, but I have to admit he knocked it out of the park in the team event free skate last week, which included three quad jumps with one in combination. I am a fan of his artistic evolution on the ice and with his technical elements solidly in place, I think his time is coming.
If there was ever a time where dominance in the short program was desirable, this would be it.