A showdown four years in the waiting had the air taken out of it in mere seconds.
Yuzuru Hanyu took to the ice for part one of his Olympic title defense: the short program.
His first jump was supposed to be a quadruple salchow, but instead it just… wasn’t. Hanyu popped the jump (aka basically performed a single salchow instead) and the figure skating world gasped.
Just like that, any hope for a record-tying third consecutive Olympic gold medal seemed to evaporate.
The remainder of his program went well, with a quad toeloop-triple toeloop and later a triple axel, but he scored 95.15 points — 16.67 off from his world record score from 2020.
SEE MORE: Yuzuru Hanyu’s major mistake in Olympic short program
The door opened for rival Nathan Chen, the three-time reigning world champion, to swoop in and strengthen his chances at winning the gold or a first individual Olympic medal of any color.
Chen burst through that door and had an exquisite program with a quad flip, triple axel and quad lutz-triple toeloop combo. The lutz is the most difficult quad jump being done out there, and performing it that late in his program gave Chen bonus points.
He set a new world’s highest score, taking that title from Hanyu and raising it from 111.82 to 113.97.
“Every opportunity that I get at competitions is one I should be grateful for,” Chen told NBC reporter Andrea Joyce, “especially the Olympics – that’s a completely different story.”
Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno, Japan’s other two skaters, are in second and third after the short, with 108.12 and 105.90 points, respectively.
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Their teammate Hanyu, meanwhile, is in eighth — 10.75 points from third and 18.82 from first. He has an uphill battle to reach the podium, and the top step has become all but impossible.
It is reminiscent of the situation faced by Chen at the PyeongChang Games in 2018; he was 17th in the short program, 21.9 points from third and 29.41 from first (Hanyu). He then won the free skate by 8.91 points and moved up to fifth overall.
Two skaters after Chen, teammate Jason Brown also had the performance of his career, setting a new personal best of 97.24 points in his return to Olympic ice for the first time since 2014.
The third American, Vincent Zhou, did not compete after testing positive for COVID-19 the day before competition. Chen and Zhou became silver medalists in the team event that day.
SEE MORE: Team USA’s Jason Brown has personal best short, lands sixth
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