We’ve talked a lot about the women around here, but it is time now to turn our attention to the figure skating guys, because this is going to be a very good competition. Nathan Chen is looking for redemption; Yuzuru Hanyu might mess around and make history; Yuma Kagiyama is ready to spoil it all; Jason Brown will make you cry. It all starts tonight with the short program.
Nathan Chen, USA
Chen choked at the last Games. He was expected to challenge for the gold in his first Olympic appearance, but he bombed his short program in the team event and again in the singles competition, where he didn’t complete a single clean jumping pass. He set a personal best score in his free skate, but it was too late; his short program score was too much to overcome and he finished in fifth. Since then, he’s gone to Yale (class of 2024, currently on leave to train for the Olympics), and he’s established himself as the best men’s skater in the world, winning the last three World Championships (2020’s was canceled) by a margin of 47, 22, and 28 points. Since his disappointment at Pyeongchang, he was undefeated in competition until this past October, when he finished third at Skate America.
Chen has it all, the style and artistry paired with insanely consistent jumps, and the stamina to do five quads in his free skate. The 22-year-old went so hard into his extremely fun choreography (to an Elton John–themed program that starts with a remix of “Bennie and the Jets”) at nationals this year that he tripped and faceplanted.
This competition is Chen’s to lose. He skated a perfect short program (a personal best international score) on Thursday in the team event, so is already off to a much better start than his first Olympics.
Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan
Hanyu is the wizened veteran in this competition. The 27-year-old won gold at the last two Olympics, and has set countless records in skating. He’s the most popular skater in this competition by a landslide. But Hanyu hasn’t beat Chen since the 2018 Games, and he’s only competed once this year, at Japanese Nationals in December. (He pulled out of his two Grand Prix assignments this season because of a right ankle injury.)
Hanyu has an interesting decision to make. He’s been working on the quad axel, a jump that has never been landed by anyone in skating. The forward entry for axel jumps means that the quad axel is FOUR AND A HALF rotations in the air. After not competing all season, Hanyu whipped out the quad axel in his free skate at Japanese Nationals, but he under-rotated and the technical panel downgraded it, giving him a negative grade of execution and making the jump worth a triple axel value instead of a quad axel.
Hanyu was missing from practice sessions all of last week, prompting fans to circulate missing-person memes, but on Monday in Beijing he decided to show up. Per a report from skating reporter Jackie Wong, Hanyu went hard after the 4A, trying the jump four times. He fell twice, and and stepped and put his hand down on the ice twice. In his free skate run-through at practice, Wong reported that Hanyu fell on the quad axel that opens his program.
In a Twitter video, Hanyu promised fans he would attempt a quad axel at the Olympics. I for one, really hope he does! I love the drama and suspense of holding out of practice until the day before the competition. Best I can tell, Hanyu has been talking about the quad axel since 2019, and it would be so cool if it finally came together for him on skating’s biggest stage.
If Hanyu really wants to challenge Chen for gold, he can’t afford to give up points going for a quad axel when he could opt for a more reliable quad to match Chen’s. Will he go for history and become the first person ever to land a quad axel, or give himself the best chance at his third Olympic gold medal?
Yuma Kagiyama, Japan
The 18-year-old Kagiyama gets overshadowed by his older teammates Hanyu and Shoma Uno, whom he finished behind at Japanese nationals, but this season, he’s making a case to be noticed. Kagiyama got silver at last year’s Worlds, 29 points behind Chen and two points ahead of Hanyu.
On Saturday night, Kagiyama skated a brilliant free skate for Japan in the team competition and positioned himself as a real threat for the Olympic gold. After his free skate, NBC’s Tara Lipinski described him as a “dark horse” in the men’s competition. Kagiyama’s score, 208.94, was a personal best (he’d never broken 200 before), and better than Chen has scored in his two international competitions this season. I had not seen Kagiyama skate before the team event and I am now obsessed with this small man who spins so fast in the air!!!
If Chen or Hanyu make mistakes, Kagiyama and his tiny feet will be ready to prance to the gold.
Jason Brown, USA
Brown is another fan favorite, known for his incredible performance more than his technical abilities. He is not a jumper, and only has one quad planned, the quad salchow, which he struggles to consistently execute. This is Brown’s second Olympics. He competed in Sochi and placed ninth, and then missed out on Pyeongchang altogether.
Brown went viral for skating to a Riverdance song in Sochi (I obviously love him for this) and last year he debuted a short program to Nina Simone’s “Sinnerman” that has earned him a cult following. He effortlessly hits every accent in the complicated jazz piece. I mean look at this, he’s twirling perfectly in time with the speedy piano! How!
Brown is the only one who could skate to this song so beautifully. Brown will not medal at the Olympics, but he will wow you.
Vincent Zhou, the third American Olympic skater, withdrew from competition after testing positive for COVID-19.
Keegan Messing, Canada
Keegan barely made it here. While the rest of his teammates competed in the team event for Canada, Messing was stuck in Vancouver after testing positive for COVID-19, waiting to test negative three times so he could get to Montreal, and then test negative once more so he could board a flight to Beijing. Roman Sadovsky replaced Messing in the team competition and it didn’t look like the reigning Canadian champ would make it in time to compete in the men’s competition, but finally on Saturday, Messing was cleared to head to Beijing. He arrived early Monday in China, one day before the men’s competition, the last possible second to make this work.
Shoma Uno, Japan
Aside from having really great hair, Uno is a definite medal threat. The 24-year-old won silver at the last Olympics behind Hanyu, and already put up a personal-best short program score in the team event at these Olympics.
Morisi Kvitelashvili, Georgia
Not a medal contender, but I am personally fascinated by Kvitelashvili because he trains with Eteri Tutberidze, who coaches the three women on the Russian Olympic team. In an interview with Channel One, translated by ExtraFS, she was asked why she doesn’t have any men who are top skaters.
“You can say [to girls], do you want to make something of yourself in life? “Tutberidze said. “So that your kids have a famous mom? You’ll have your own apartment. They understand it. Boys don’t think about the future. You can’t motivate them this way. “
NBC’s Johnny Weir said he’s sat in on Tutberidze’s training sessions in Moscow and that Kvitelashvili, “goes into the background” when he is on the ice with top Russian women. Then he dropped this detail: “It’s so cute, but Eteri, his coach, he is the only one she will skate away from and smile. Such a cool personality on this one.”
This man is the only skater to make Eteri smile?! Give him a medal just for that.
The men’s singles competition begins Monday night at 8:15 p.m. ET. Here’s the order: