Two-time U.S. champion Nathan Chen, a pre-games favorite, was anything but spot-on in the men's figure skating short program Friday at Gangneung Ice Arena. He missed on all his jumps, plummeting to 17th place and a score of 82.27 with a tentative and passionless showing.
"I've never been in this spot so I really don't know what to do," Chen said. "I thought I did everything right in my general approach and it just didn't work out the way it was supposed to."
Meanwhile, defending Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, skating just months after he injured ligaments in his right ankle at a November practice, received a score of 111.68 — the highest Olympic score ever for a men’s short program. Hanyu did not even begin to practice the most difficult elements of his routine until weeks before the Games.
No matter. He hit every element of a highly difficult program with precision and grace.
"I just wanted to show everyone I'm back, I'm here," Hanyu said.
Was he ever. In what amounted to a spectacular jumping contest complemented by superb spins and intricate footwork amid intense pressure, the top four were magnificent and spotless.
Hanyu was in first place following the short program, followed by Javier Fernandez of Spain, Japan’s Shoma Uno and China's Jin Boyang.
"I probably could get a little bit more points into the program, but not much more," Fernandez said. "We're hitting the limits of figure skating right now."
One of the first competitors to skate, American Vincent Zhou landed the first quad lutz in Winter Olympic history and received a season-best score of 84.53. At 17 years old, Zhou is the youngest member of the U.S. Olympic team.
The eldest of the U.S. men’s figure skaters, Adam Rippon landed back-to-back triples to open his routine, and received a score of 87.95. A first-time Olympian at 28 years old, Rippon explained what has allowed him to skate so well later in his career.
“I can’t explain witchcraft,” Rippon said. “I just feel like I’m coming into my own. I’m confident in who I am and what I’m doing. I’m having a great time.”
Both Zhou and Rippon temporarily held first place after they completed their routines, before being overtaken by other skaters. The short program featured 30 competitors, the top 24 of which advanced to Saturday’s free skate. Skaters’ two scores will then be added to together to determine the medals.