Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu made figure skating history, and now can chase even more of it.
He’ll do so without having to fend off a challenge from another record-setter, Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko.
Hanyu became the first figure skater to break the 100-point mark with a spectacular performance in the men’s short program on Thursday night at the Sochi Games. He earned 101.45 points with a playful, almost seductive routine in which he seemed to flow above the ice.
“I was so surprised with my score,” Hanyu said. “I didn’t know I got over 100.”
He shouldn’t have been, considering the speed, sharpness, entertainment value and total conviction of his skating. The stunned 19-year-old also won the men’s short program in the team event.
While Hanyu was soaring to a nearly four-point lead over three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, Plushenko finished his stellar career with another injury.
The only figure skater in the modern era to win medals in four games, including gold in the new team event last weekend, Plushenko hurt his back in training Wednesday. He gave it a go in warmups before Thursday’s short program, but after falling on a triple axel, he knew he was done.
“I said to myself, ‘Evgeni, you must skate. It’s two more days, short and long program,’ ” the 31-year-old and 2006 Olympic gold medalist said.
But he could not.
“I think it’s God saying, ‘Evgeni, enough, enough with skating,’ ” added Plushenko, who said he’s had 12 surgeries.
No man from an Asian nation or Canada has ever won Olympic gold in figure skating. Chan, who was fifth in Vancouver, put on his best Olympic routine to stay within sight of Hanyu.
“Four points in singles men’s is not much,” Chan said. “I like being in second. I like being in the chase. It’s exciting to me.”
Javier Fernandez of Spain, a country that’s never won an Olympic figure skating medal, was third with 86.98.
Hanyu and Fernandez are coached by Brian Orser, who guided South Korea’s Yuna Kim to women’s gold in Vancouver. Because they skated consecutively, Orser had to scramble to change from a gray blazer to a Spain team jacket, but first he sprinted over to congratulate his Japanese student.
American Jason Brown put on the performance his young skating career to finish sixth. He’s within the width of a skate blade of third heading into today’s free skate.
With just one game to prepare for its Olympic showdown with Russia, the United States men’s team decided to cram an entire tournament’s worth of hard work and highlights into one spectacular opener.
Paul Stastny scored twice during a six-goal barrage in the second period, and the Americans got off to a roaring start in Sochi with a 7-1 victory over Slovakia in preliminary-round play Thursday.
Ryan Kesler, David Backes, Phil Kessel and Dustin Brown also scored as the U.S. battered Slovakia for six consecutive goals in a 13:51 span, turning what was expected to be a tough matchup into a laugher with their relentless offense.
Russia topped Slovenia 5-2 in a preliminary round and will face the U.S. on Saturday. Also, Canada defeated Norway 3-1 and Finland beat Austria 8-4. In the women’s tournament, Germany defeated Japan 4-0 and Russia beat Sweden 3-1.
Justyna Kowalczyk of Germany led virtually all the way, finishing in 28 minutes, 17.8 seconds and beating silver medalist Charlotte Kalla of Sweden by 18.4 seconds. Therese Johaug of Norway took bronze, 28.3 seconds behind.
Li Jianrou’s win in the 500 keeps the Olympic title with China. Injured teammate Wang Meng couldn’t defend the title she has won at every Winter Games since 2002. Arianna Fontana of Italy took the silver and Park Seung-hi of South Korea earned the bronze. Elise Christie of Britain caused the first crash of the wild final and was disqualified.
In the women’s 1000-meter race, Zhang Hong pulled off a stunning victory to give China its first gold ever in Olympic speedskating. Her time of 1 minute, 14.02 seconds, broke the track record and just missed the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Games. Ireen Wust took the silver and Margo Boer the bronze, giving the Dutch a dozen speedskating medals.
Martin Fourcade of France earned his second gold of the Sochi Games with a victory in the men’s 20-kilometer individual race. Fourcade, who won the 12.5K pursuit on Monday, finished 12.2 seconds ahead of silver medalist Erik Lesser of Germany. Yevgeny Garanichev of Russia won the bronze.
Germany scored a golden sweep of all four luge events by winning the inaugural team relay. Felix Loch, Natalie Geisenberger and the doubles team of Tobias Wendl and Tobias Arlt finished their runs in 2 minutes, 45.649 seconds, beating Russia for the title by 1.030 seconds. Latvia won the bronze.
Gold medal favorites Canada, Sweden and Britain posted wins in the men’s tournament, keeping the pressure on undefeated China, which had a bye Thursday. In the women’s competition, Canada swept away its fifth consecutive opponent, while Sweden knocked Switzerland from the ranks of the undefeated. Britain revived its chances of making the semifinals by beating China.
Lizzy Yarnold of Britain and Noelle Pinkus-Pace grabbed the top two spots midway through the women’s skeleton competition. The final two runs for the gold are today.