Changing of the guard in men's Olympic figure skating

Posted by Julia Martin

A king has been dethroned.

To many viewers, competitive figure skating is only a blur of sequined spandex, made more exciting by the occasional hiring of a hit-man to sabotage the Olympic hopes and dreams of your arch-nemesis (see: Nancy Kerrigan and Tonya Harding in 1994). But regardless of what the (genius) Will Ferrell would have you believe in Blades of Glory, competitive figure skaters undergo great mental and physical challenges to be able to compete on an international level.

The international stage of the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics was host to a great shift in the world of competitive men's figure skating. Favorites such as Russia's Evgeni Plushenko and USA's Jeremy Abbott succumbed to mental errors and injuries, allowing space for the emergence of a new generation of elite male figure skaters.

Russia's figure skating royalty Evgeni Plushenko, a quadruple-jump machine, dropped out of the competition just seconds before he was due to skate his short program. Plushenko was the 2002 Olympic silver medalist, 2006 Olympic gold medalist and 2010 Olympic silver medalist-an Olympic medal record virtually unheard of in a sport that favors young, spritely teenagers rather than "aging" skaters in their mid-20's. When Plushenko dropped out due to a lower back injury, a more than decade-long era of Russian dominance ended.

Maintaining the skills to compete on elite international ice is both physically and mentally grueling.

Here's an example of a single element during a four-minute and 30 second performance. During his short program, Canada's Patrick Chan completed a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop jump combination. That means he vaulted himself in the air using only his toe-pick as leverage, completed four rotations, landed the element cleanly and balanced, and completed a triple toe loop (three full rotations) only a fraction of a second following the jump. That's seven full rotations in roughly 4 seconds.

And those four seconds are the difference between a spot on the medal podium or going home empty-handed.

Here's what happened in Sochi:

YUZURU HANYU, JAPAN: The 19 year-old Japanese prodigy brought home the gold after setting a world-record with his short program score and skating a (nearly) flawless long program.

PATRICK CHAN, CANADA: The favored Canadian pulled out a silver-medal performance, although his jump elements (including a quad-triple combination) did not match the quality of Hanyu.

JEREMY ABBOTT, USA: America's top men's figure skater, a characteristically unreliable competitor, took a nasty fall during his quad attempt in the short program, recovering and completing a satisfactory long program to land him in 12th place overall.

JASON BROWN, USA: The 19 year-old YouTube sensation skated his Riverdance long program, successfully completing his triple axel passes (a three and a half revolution jump), and earning 9th place. Brown's the American to watch for the 2018 Winter Olympics.

EVGENI PLUSHENKO, RUSSIA: Pulled out of the competition after clutching his lower-back during warm-ups. Russia's sole entry into the men's completion, he has since officially retired from competitive figure skating.

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