What a night of figure skating. It couldn't have been more dramatic if it had been scripted.
It was the men's short program tonight (or last night, depending on what time zone you are in). First, Plushenko fell on a jump during practice[*](I initially said "practice," but I think I really meant "warm-up") and wrenched his back, pulling out of the competition (and competition in general) once and for all.[*](Or so we thought.)
On the one hand, I don't take pleasure in the suffering of others. And you could tell, by the look in his eyes and the way he was moving, that he was in considerable pain. I know a thing or two about back pain, so I can't help but sympathize.
During the past four years, part of me hoped that he wouldn't be competing in these Olympics at all, but since he did show up, I wanted him to compete in the individual competition and lose; thus the world would know, once and for all, that what happened in Vancouver was not a fluke. I don't begrudge him the decision to withdraw from competition; truth be told, an unpleasantly vindicative part of myself takes fiendish delight in the fact that there's no way that he can win another Olympic figure skating medal ever again.[*](Well, there might be a way. My lord, the man's like a cross between Brett Favre and the Energizer Bunny.) But I didn't want it to happen this way. I still think that Hanyu and Chan would have wiped the ice with him, but now we'll never know for sure, and to be honest, I feel a little bit cheated.
With that said, it's tempting to think this might be some form of karmic retribution for being such a terrible sport in Vancouver. But that's not for me to judge.
But as the saying goes, the show must go on. Shortly thereafter, the brilliant but inconsistent Jeremy Abbott had a HORRIFIC fall on his quad attempt, crashed into the boards, and just at the point when I was starting to wonder whether or not he was going to have to be carried off the ice on a stretcher, he got up to thunderous applause, and--incredibly--continued skating his program. I guess maybe he wasn't down for as long as it seemed at the time because the music never stopped playing. I expected that he must have been injured, I expected that he was going to withdraw, but he just got up, picked up a point in the music and kept going, skating the rest of the performance beautifully. It was one of the bravest, most tenacious, most amazing, most inspirational performances I've ever seen--in figure skating, in the Olympics, in life in general. And I cannot give enough credit to the Russian audience; they could not have been more gracious and more supportive in cheering him on. They were behind him all the way, and he expressly stated later that it was the fans' cheering that spurred him on. His score was respectable (though not spectacular) and his medal hopes are probably slim to none, but it doesn't really matter; that performance was a victory in itself.
Then Jason Brown came out and skated awesomely and adorably, as per usual. He's in the hunt for a medal; odds are perhaps a bit long, but I wouldn't count him out.
Then Yuzuru Hanyu came out and scored a world record-breaking short program score of 101.45. The only criticism I have of him, and it's really more of an observation than a criticism, is that his shirt coincidently (or not?) was almost the exact same shades of blue as the insignia on the boards, so there were times that he almost blended into the background. Nevertheless, he gave a standout performance.
Patrick Chan also gave a standpoint performance. He's been the man to beat for the past couple of years, but unfortunately, Patrick Chan has a nemesis: the triple axel. The quad is no problem for him, he could probably do it in his sleep, but the triple axel gives him fits. Had he landed it cleanly, he would have been neck-and-neck with Hanyu; as it is, he's about four points behind, still well within striking distance.
Then Daisuke Takahashi came out and gave a flawed but still wonderful performance. I'm just so pleased to see him here at all; I remember them saying back in 2010 that he said he thought Vancouver would be his last Olympics, yet here he is again.
Whew! And those are just the bits of the competition that I got to see, in between skeleton and crazy-people-skiing-backwards. The free skate is tomorrow, and I predict it will be a battle for bronze, although after tonight I don't know quite what to expect.
A few random thoughts before I wrap up here: there's been some naysaying about the team figure skating event, but I think that's mostly just because it's new. Personally, the only thing I don't like about it is, since everyone skates the same routines in the team event that they do in the individual disciplines, people who aren't figure skating fans, or are more casual fans, might see people skating the same routines in the same costumes and think, "Oh, I've already seen this; what else is on?" and not pay attention. But that's a minor criticism. I think that if/when they try it again, they should schedule the team event after the individual competitions, just to see if it works better. That seems to be the crux of most of the debate; not if it should be included but when it should be placed in the schedule. Personally, I can see good arguments on either side.
I have to give a lot of credit to the Russian figure skating audiences; not only are they gracious and enthusiastic, they're well educated as well. Every time someone skates to a program by a Russian composer, they applaud the choice of music. It's endearing. Granted, the US doesn't have quite the same tradition of music that Russia does, but still, you never hear US figure skating audiences go, "Yeah, Gershwin!" or "Whoo, Aaron Copeland!" They might possibly go "Yay, John Williams!" but that would probably have just as much to do with the music's association to movies than with the composer or the music itself.