Hanyu, Chen deliver historic performances

Japanese icon cements legacy, American gives glimpse of future

Hanyu, Chen deliver historic performances
Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, left, and U.S. star Nathan Chen, right, gave memorable performances during the two-day men’s figure skating event. © Getty Images

By Pj Kwong, CBC Sports

Phenomenal. Let's start there.

Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu became the first man to win back-to-back Olympic men's titles since American Dick Button in 1952. Did he win the free program? No, but he didn't need to. After taking the lead in the short program, Hanyu only needed to flirt with perfection, he didn't have to hit it, which he more than accomplished.

Figure skating's consummate showman, Javier Fernandez from Spain, is taking home a bronze medal, which is perfect for a man skating to Dream the Impossible Dream.

My surprise and delight was in seeing Shoma Uno remain composed and come away with the silver medal.

The real mind blower came from American champion and Nathan Chen.

His 17th place finish in the short program could only be described as disastrous. It appeared as if nerves and pressure had gotten the best of him, so despite acknowledging his outstanding potential, I was managing my expectations for Chen's free skate.

Chen skated early — ninth out of the 24 skaters. In my mind, there was a choice to be made: Chen could either allow the nerves to take over and remain buried in the bottom half of the field or he could choose to do something about it. That's the thing with skating, you don't have control over the judges, but you do have control over what you will be presenting to them.

I love this program put together by choreographer Lori Nichol to Mao's Last Dancer soundtrack. I appreciate how it works for this young man by providing an artistic framework for his extraordinary jumps. In Saturday's program, Chen executed six quadruple jumps, which included four different types of jumps and two of which were done in combination with another jump. This is the first time that these many quads have appeared in a free program at the Olympic Games. It was pretty special.

Chen's skate was thoughtful and deliberate but by no means timid. When the marks came up, he posted a season's best score of 215.08 that ultimately beat everyone else's scores for the free skate. Initially, Chen's lead was 40 points more than the next closest competitor and he had a total score of 297.35.

I kept watching the skaters show up on the leader board with Chen's name at the top as there seemed to be an outside chance that he could make the podium.

It would take until Boyang Jin competed as skater No. 20 of 24, to break the lock Chen had on first place. Jin's score was 297.77 and that .37 spread is what moved Chen down from first. He didn't drop far, though. By the time the event was over, Chen had climbed impressively from 17th to fifth place overall.

For Chen, the redemption factor must be huge. To be able to come back from the kind of disappointment he faced after his short program and deliver that free program he did is under the glare of the Olympic rings is, as I said: phenomenal.