GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – To many people, the complex mathematics of figure skating’s scoring system still feel hopelessly confusing. Dick Button considers the basic equation very simple.
“The winner of the Olympic Games in the men’s figure skating will be the skater that performs the best and most quadruple jumps,” the two-time Olympic gold medalist said. “Period. End of subject.”
After Friday’s short program at Gangneung Ice Arena, the leading candidate is Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who blew away the field with a score of 111.68 that was pumped up by two flawless quads. The next four skaters — Javier Fernandez of Spain, Shoma Uno of Japan, Jin Boyang of China and Olympic Athlete from Russia Dmitri Aliev — also landed two quads each. Fernandez is second with 107.58 points, followed by Uno with 104.17, Jin with 103.32 and Aliev with 98.98.
U.S. champion Nathan Chen also planned a pair of quads, but he had a disastrous skate and tumbled to 17th place. Chen can land five different quadruple jumps, and his leaping ability stamped him as a gold medal contender. But he failed to land any clean jumps Friday, falling on his opening quad and stepping out of the landings on a quad toeloop and a triple axel.
Chen’s U.S. countryman Adam Rippon put out a performance that exemplified the current state of men’s skating. The audience swooned over a program overflowing with sass and attitude, but without a quad in his program, he earned only 87.95 points to take seventh place.
When Rippon began pursuing an Olympic berth, the world’s top men had two triple axels in their programs. No one could rotate in the air four times. Still, he struck a proud blow for artistry in an era ruled by the big jumpers.
“Right now, the name of the game is as many quads as possible,” said Rippon, 28, who won the 2016 U.S. championship at Xcel Energy Center. “I fell in love with skating because of the performances. When I go out there, that’s my highest point-gaining element, my whole performance.
“For me to be able to go out there and really deliver on what I wanted to do, I’m so happy. I’m so proud.”
Hanyu, the defending Olympic champion, has been recovering from an ankle injury and skipped the team figure skating event. His powerful performance sent waves of Japanese fans into a frenzy, and they showered the ice with a downpour of stuffed Winnie-the-Poohs, a favorite of Hanyu.
He showed off the charisma that has won him a legion of fans in Japan and around the globe. Hanyu opened with a high-flying quad loop and did a quad toeloop-triple toeloop late in the program, earning bonus points. He looked a little overwhelmed when he saw his score, which was just short of his world record for a short program.
“I just felt happy to skate,” he said. “I felt satisfied with every element. I’m really happy because I was really feeling the music and the ice.
“I couldn’t perform for the last three months, so I am happy to be back.”
Chen had a poor skate in the team event, botching two jumps. He could not land any of his three planned jumps Friday, leaving him at a loss to explain.
“It just was rough,” Chen said. “I did all the right stuff coming into it. It should have been different. But stuff happens. I just have to move on.”
The third American skater, Vincent Zhou, stumbled out of a quad flip and put a hand down on the landing of his triple axel. His score of 84.53 put him in 12th place, and he became the first skater to land a quad lutz at the Olympics.