Japanese figure skater nearly matches own world record despite recent injury
By Pj Kwong, CBC Sports
There are skaters and there are legends. I saw both on Friday in the men's short program.
Yuzuru Hanyu didn't have the greatest practice earlier in the day, but when it came time to perform his short program, that didn't seem to matter. Battling back from an injury to ligaments in his ankle during the Grand Prix season in November might have been cause for concern in his return to competition. However, that turned out not to be the case.
The youthful charm and playfulness that Hanyu exhibits when he is just chatting with you backstage is in stark contrast with the athlete with the killer instinct in competition. There was a look on Hanyu's face as he took his opening pose. It's a look I have seen before and signals that Hanyu is about to get down to business.
VIDEO The legend of Yuzuru Hanyu continues to grow
As the first skater in the final group of men, Hanyu took his time getting into position. The music started. Hanyu's two quads, the Salchow and the toe loop in combination with a triple toe loop, were effortless and clean. So was the triple Axel. The program itself had great composition and Hanyu moved with ease between the elements. Once done, he savoured the moment at centre ice with a satisfied smile on his face. Even his bows gave me chills; a man in complete control of his audience and himself.
Hanyu above mere mortals
Hanyu posted the highest score ever for a short program with 112.72 points back in the Fall of 2017. His score Friday was just shy of that, and is the second highest score ever at 111.68.
VIDEO | Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu dominates men's short program
Sitting just below Hanyu in mere mortal territory, although exceptional, is Spain's Javier Fernandez, who trains alongside Hanyu. Fernandez was poised, charismatic and technically strong with two quad jumps of his own, including one in combination. Fernandez earns your attention by performing any routine to the max and his Charlie Chaplin-inspired short program was no exception. He has a style and charm coupled with great skating skills that makes him one of my favourites.
VIDEO | Patrick Chan's short skate
Another skater, Canadian Patrick Chan, hasn't been able to find his Olympic footing in his third trip to the Games. Arguably with the best skating skills in the field, Chan started his program with a clean quad-toe jump, hit a triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but under rotated and fell on his triple Axel.
There were glimpses of the Chan that earned him three world titles and an Olympic silver medal in 2014, best seen in his ability to glide across the ice and interpret music the way only he can. In sixth place and trailing 21.66 points behind Hanyu means that Chan has a tough hill to climb in the free skate if he wants to make the podium.
Trying to handicap the Olympic men's field was a tough one. There were so many different possible candidates for the podium, but it's Hanyu's name that continues to ring out. Like I said, legend.