On a night where it seemed like the top two contenders, Patrick Chan and Yuzuru Hanyu, tried valiantly to give the gold medal away, it was eventually Hanyu who was crowned Olympic champion in men's figure skating. Usually, gold medals mean an athlete going above and beyond, delivering a once-in-a-lifetime performance (see: Douglas, Gabby). That did not happen on Friday.
Instead we were treated to a bobble-fest. Here's how it went down:
Going into the free skate, Japan's Hanyu had a 3.93-point lead over Canada's Chan thanks to his splendid and record-breaking short program. That is not insurmountable. But that's big enough of a cushion that if Hanyu skated cleanly, there would be nothing Chan could do no matter how well he skated.
We've kind of gone over scoring a bit now. If you're down with scoring, scroll down to the next section. If you're still here, the most important thing you need to know is that free skates are comprised of a component score (comprised mostly choreography, artistry, skating skills) and a technical score. The latter part is the tricky thing.
The technical score of free skates are made up of 13 elements — a combination of spins, jumps, and combination jumps that all carry a base value. Skaters want to do every single one of those elements beautifully because judges have the power to penalize and take away points or reward skaters and add bonus points based on how well (for jumps skater get scored on the jump, the entry going into the jump, the speed, height, etc.) or how bad they performed those elements. These are called Grade of Execution scores and are capped at -3 and +3. Now, let's move on to Hanyu's performance.
Going into the free skate, if Hanyu hit his elements cleanly there'd be no way Chan, the only man within 14 points of him, would catch him. The whole entire figure skating-watching world, Hanyu included, knew this. He was skating right before Chan. And the pressure seemed to get to him— he did not skate anywhere near the level that he displayed in the team event and in Thursday's short program. He opened with one of his two quads, and, with a fall, also opened the door for Chan:
The thing to notice here is that Hanyu received a -3 in his execution score. That brings down the base value of his jump (10.50), and all of a sudden his 4-point lead over Chan has dwindled. Further: falls, when butts hit the ice, it's counted as another point deduction from the total score.
Hanyu followed that up with another bobble, this one on much less difficult jump, the triple flip:
In two messy jumps, Hanyu found himself out of control of his own destiny.
At this point: Advantage Chan
When We Thought Chan Was Getting Gold
With those two, glaring mistakes, the door was open for the world champion. The table was set for gold medal. And for a moment it looked like he was doing to slam that door on Hanyu's chances. Chan delivered a stunning quadruple toe-triple toe loop combination on his first jumping pass:
A +3 GOE means the judges believe he couldn't have done that combination any better. What you're looking for here is the speed, the amount of ice covered, and the smooth and effortless landing. If he and Hanyu were skating simultaneously, this would have been the moment where his score passed Hanyu.
At this point: Advantage Chan.
Where Chan Lost It
Chan did not execute any of his following jumps with the same beauty and grace as that combination. His flubbed his triple axel:
And did the same on his quadruple toe loop:
The easiest way to think of it at this point is that Hanyu has two glaring mistakes. And so does Chan. Chan even has the slim edge at this point, since he didn't mess up as poorly as Hanyu. But, Chan's woes continued this time on his double axel — the easiest jump of the night in his program:
At this point: Advantage Hanyu
How Hanyu Won It
The biggest factor in Hanyu's victory was in his ability to stop the bleeding better than Chan. Despite a fall on his opening jump, he pulled it together for a pretty quadruple toe loop:
Notice the 2.14 GOE — a sign that judges thought this jump was exceptional. And his triple axel-triple toe loop combination was also exquisite:
And again, another stellar 2.43 GOE and another boatload of points. These jumps, and Hanyu's ability to hold it together, were part of the reason Hanyu kept his first place spot despite skating a flawed program. The other part was Chan's inability to keep it together. Thanks to Chan's mistakes, Hanyu actually extended his lead over Chan by another 1.37 points (he held a small advantage in his technical marks, while Chan held a small advantage in his component score ). If you recall, going into this skate Hanyu held a 3.9-point advantage. His final total was 280.89 compared to Chan's 275.62.
Ice dancing begins this weekend, and the women's event starts on February 19.