The storyline leading into the men’s free skate at the 2022 Winter Olympics was anticipated to be: Will (Nathan Chen/Yuzuru Hanyu) stay ahead or will (Nathan Chen/Yuzuru Hanyu) close the narrow points gap to take the gold medal?
Thanks to a hole in the ice, the storyline is instead: Will Chen remain on top and win gold or will either of Hanyu’s Japanese compatriots usurp him?
The 22-year-old American had the skate of his life in the short program, earning the highest score ever recorded under the current points system (113.97), and is 5.85 points ahead of the field entering the free skate. He is also 14.46 points ahead of fourth place.
Already a three-time world champion, Chen is in a terrific spot to now claim his first individual Olympic medal — and if he cleanly performs his Elton John free skate, it will also be his first gold (after team event bronze from PyeongChang 2018 and silver a few days ago).
Yuma Kagiyama (108.12) and Shoma Uno (105.90) are close in the standings, though, and both capable of rising to the occasion — or benefiting from any Chen mistakes. Kagiyama, now 18 years old, is the surprise silver medalist of the 2021 World Championships who since won both his Grand Prix assignments this season; Uno is the reigning Olympic silver medalist who was fourth at the past two worlds.
Meanwhile, two-time reigning Olympic gold medalist Hanyu is in eighth after a hitting a hole in the ice when taking off for his opening jump, a quadruple salchow, and popping/singling it instead. With a score of 95.15, he is 18.82 points from first and10.75 from the podium. Neither is impossible to reach, but he has his work cut out for him. The 27-year-old would benefit immensely from a clean quad axel, the 4 1/2-revolution jump no skater has ever landed in competition but that he promised to attempt at these Olympics.
Jason Brown is another one to watch. After earning a new personal best score in the short, he will hope in his “Schindler’s List” free skate to land his first fully-rotated quad that receives a positive grade of execution. Either way, simply making it back to the Games (and making the final free skate group with a sixth place in the short) is a victory itself for the 27-year-old, 2014 Olympic team event bronze medalist who failed to qualify in 2018.