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Curses! Chan hands Hanyu Olympic gold medal

Japanese star holds off Canadian despite stumbles; Ten seizes bronze
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Though he made several mistakes, two-time Japanese champ Yuzuru Hanyu performed his 'Romeo and Juliet' free skate well enough to snag Olympic gold. The 19-year-old phenom posted the highest segment score for Canadian coach Brian Orser and tallied 280.09 points overall to claim the highest prize. -Getty Images

Three years ago, as Yuzuru Hanyu practiced in his home rink, a devastating earthquake and tsunami ripped through his hometown of Sendai.

The 16-year-old ran off of the ice, still in his skates, to seek safety in an emergency shelter. The rink was closed for about four months. For a time, Hanyu and his family struggled to find clean drinking water and other supplies.

Three years later, at the 2014 Olympic Winter Games, Hanyu has given Japan its first Olympic gold medal in men's figure skating.

"After the earthquake, I was unable to skate," Hanyu said through a translator. "I had my hands full just trying to stay alive.

"I am here because of all the people of Japan, the tens of thousands of people who supported me. I think I was able to give something good back."

Hanyu's victory is inspirational, although his free skate Friday was far from flawless. Still, the willowy teen snatched gold from Canada's three-time world champion, Patrick Chan, who had plenty of troubles of his own.

In a surprise -- and because other skaters, too, had bad nights -- Kazakhstan's world silver medalist Denis Ten stormed up from ninth after the short program to claim the bronze medal.

Hanyu, who moved from Japan to Toronto in the summer of 2012 to train under Brian Orser, has been brilliant in his practices in Sochi. He blazed through his short program Thursday night, landing every jump and piling up a world-record score of 101.45 points.

Friday was a different story. A tentative Hanyu fell on his first jump, a quadruple Salchow, as well as his third, a triple flip. Later in the program, he popped an intended triple loop into a single. Along with the errors, Hanyu's free skate to Nino Rota's Romeo and Juliet lacked some of its usual drama and flair, although it grew a bit stronger in its second half.

The skater earned 178.64, far off his personal best, and ended with 280.09 to defeat Chan by about four and a half points.

"I am not happy with the way I skated today; the triple flip was a big disappointment," Hanyu said. "Of course, I am happy I won the gold."

"He is a perfectionist, and he's beating himself up a little bit," Orser said. "I think when he gets his medal on [Saturday] night, it will sink in."

Orser doesn't think the huge Japanese media presence in Sochi was a factor.

"It really surprised me he would allow nerves to get to him as much as he did," the coach said. "He's been really in control and calm. He's been through the media at Japanese nationals and the Grand Prix Final in Japan. He's been facing pressure and dealing with it well; we have to talk about this and figure it out."

At least Hanyu can console himself with gold. There is little consolation for Chan, whose dreams of an Olympic title ended with a series of mistakes, including a big step out on a triple Axel, the doubling of two intended triples and a flawed double Axel. He earned 178.10 points in the free and ended with 275.62.

"Little mistakes here and there," Chan said. "I didn't know how [Hanyu] skated going into my program. I wanted to focus on myself; that was my job. It just happened that today it didn't work."

Chan remained composed in the mixed zone, and several times alluded to the two silver medals he has won in Sochi in both the individual and team event. But this defeat is a bitter blow.

By turns exasperating and captivating, cocky and vulnerable, the Canadian has dominated the four seasons since the 2010 Vancouver Games with his brash pronouncements, gaffe-prone interviews and simply splendid skating. Surely, he expected to cap his career with Olympic gold.

His reign has been controversial. Chan's unique abilities gave rise to real and imagined complaints of "Chanflation," or the propensity of judges to overlook one or two -- occasionally three -- stumbles in his programs, to reward his superior skating skills. Ironically, in Sochi, he stayed on his feet and lost to a man who fell twice.

"You can't define an athlete because of one day," Chan said. "It's the huge exhilaration of happy times, me standing on the podium many times in my career. Just because I'm standing on the side today doesn't change the fact I still believe I'm the very best in the world."

"Canadian curse" claims another victim

Chan's loss keeps intact the so-called "Canadian curse" of Canada's world champions arriving at Olympics, only to lose gold. He is now the fourth Canadian man to do so, after Orser (1988), Kurt Browning (1992 and 1994) and Elvis Stojko (1998).

The man who coached his conqueror Hanyu has nothing but sympathy and empathy for Chan.

"He'll sort through it, same as me," Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, said. "I had to sort through it, and it took me a long time. For me, it was twice. For me, it was at home (Calgary). ... I don't know what he is going to do. I just gave him a hug and that's all I can do."

Injured and struggling with boot issues for much of the season, Ten was the happiest of the three medalists after a mostly clean free to Shostakovich's "The Lady and the Hooligan," including a quad toe and two triple Axels, one in combination with a triple toe. He earned 255.10 overall and, when skaters like Javier Fernández and Daisuke Takahashi faltered, was able to grab bronze.

"I am happy about my performance," Ten said. "After my skate, I went to the gym. I watched the performances on the TV in the gym and was checking the results on the ISU web page.

"Someone came in and said, 'Well, you might have to go out and get on the podium.' I had to go back and change into my skating clothes."

The 20-year-old Ten, who is coached by Frank Carroll in Southern California, is already a national hero in Kazakhstan. Now, after winning his country's first Olympic figure skating medal, his stature is sure to grow.

"Today, what happened is a very big accomplishment," he said. "This is a gift to my compatriots and to my country."

Hanyu's training mate Fernandez, third after the short, was trying to win Spain's first Olympic figure skating medal and just its third ever in a Winter Olympics. Although his performance was a bit ragged, with mistakes on a triple Axel as well as the doubling of several planned triples, a strategic error -- attempting too many triple Salchows -- ended up costing him the bronze by 1.2 points when he received zero credit for his final jump.

"I've been visualizing my two skaters (Hanyu and Fernandez) on the podium," Orser said. "I feel for Javi. It would have been so great to have two kids on the podium."

Japan's Tatsuki Machida had a solid free to rise from 11th after the short to fifth overall.

Defending Olympic bronze medalist Takahashi was sixth after his attempted quad toe was downgraded by the technical panel.

It was a mixed night for the two Americans.

Sixth after the short, U.S. silver medalist Jason Brown was unable to capture the excitement his Riverdance free usually generates. He dropped to ninth place after two of his jumps, including a triple Axel, were judged underrotated by the technical panel. He also had his final jump, a triple loop, ruled invalid.

"I was really excited to just go out there," Brown, 19, said. "It's been a great week. ... I went out there and just performed, and where I ended up is where I ended up. I'm just thrilled to be in the top 10."

As usual, questions centered on Brown's progress with the quad toe, a jump he hopes to add to his arsenal next season.

"At the moment, I'm working on it every day," he said. "When it's ready, it will be in the program."

The evening was a victory of sorts for four-time and reigning U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, who took a face-first fall on a quad toe loop during Thursday night's short program.

"I'm bruised from my hip to my ribs," Abbott, 28, said. "I've had a lot of TLC in the last 24 hours, a lot of physical therapy to make it here tonight."

With the triple loop too painful to execute, Abbott removed it from his program, subbing in a triple toe and double Axel. He also elected not to try a quad toe.

Despite these modifications -- and the painful injury -- he performed a clean, sensitive outing of his program to Muse's "Exogenesis" that earned 160.12 points, the eighth-highest score in the free, putting him 12th overall.

"I was going to finish this event, come hell or high water," Abbott said, and then added, "I was raised to see the good in people and things. If I had given up every time I fell down, I would be sitting home watching [the Olympics] on TV." 

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