SOCHI, Russia — Japanese teenager Yuzuku Hanyu survived two falls to emerge on top of a tense and error-ridden finale to the men’s figure skating competition at the Winter Olympics in Sochi Friday.
The 19-year-old had set a world-record score in the short program, but under pressure of expectation in the concluding free routine appeared to have blown his chances as he failed to land two jumps.
However, there was drama still to come on day seven of the Games as three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada once again saw his dreams of Olympic gold crumble.
A lackluster display littered with mistakes saw Chan fail to overhaul Hanyu, who was left as a relieved winner — Japan’s first in the event as the country opened its gold-medal account in Sochi.
He is the youngest winner of the figure skating competition at a Winter Games for 66 years. “I’m so proud of this feat as a Japanese,” he said.
“The Olympics is so wild and unpredictable. I’ve never been this nervous for a competition in my entire life. I’m upset with the performance I had, but I left everything I had out there.”
The 101.45 points Hanyu accrued in such incredible style Thursday gave him sufficient buffer to take the gold with a total of 280.09.
Chan took silver on 275.62 points, but it will be little consolation with ultimate triumph within his grasp. Denis Ten of Kazakhstan won the bronze.
Chan admitted he had felt the pressure in bidding for Canada’s first gold of the Games.
“We’re all human. Even (snowboard star) Shaun White makes mistakes. Unfortunately, I made one too many,” the 23-year-old said.
Russia’s main hope, Yevgeny Plushenko, had to pull out before the start of the short program after damaging his back in the warmup.
Swiss upsets the odds
Earlier Friday, the upsets continued in the alpine skiing competition as Switzerland’s Sandro Viletta took the men’s super-combined title.
The 28-year-old had never won a medal in a major championship and had won just a single World Cup event.
But his combined time of two minutes 45.20 seconds over the downhill and slalom runs gave him gold.
“This is amazing — it’s perfect, it’s more than a dream come true. It’s also a big shock. I didn’t think I would come first,” he said.
Croatian veteran Ivica Kostelic finished second, 0.34 seconds behind Viletta, to claim his fourth Olympic silver and third in the combined.
He was competing on a slalom course set by his father, who also coaches him. All the coaches of the top-15 ranked skiers go into a lottery to decide who will can lay out the course and Ante Kostelic won the draw.
Italy’s Christof Innerhofer followed his silver in Sunday’s downhill by claiming the bronze medal.
He had only praise for the course designer, despite finishing behind his son.
“I thank Ante Kostelic for setting a good course,” he said.
But defending champion Bode Miller never recovered after a disappointing downhill run and finished sixth while world champion and U.S. compatriot Ted Ligety trailed home 12th.
The variable ski conditions may have worked against the favorites, as Ligety suggested after his disappointing performance.
“They really make for funky results. You can see the results sheet so far. It’s far from the World Cup result sheets,” he said.
“But we all have to ski and deal with it. There are no excuses.”
French hope Alexis Pinturault, like Ligety a dominant force on the World Cup, also finished outside the top 10.
More Swiss success
Double gold was also a strong theme on day seven of competition, with Dario Cologna making it a great day for Switzerland by winning the 15 km classic in the cross-country nordic skiing discipline.
It was a successful defense of the title he won in Vancouver and followed his earlier triumph in the 30 km skiathlon in Sochi.
Cologna came into the Games off the back of injury problems, and his performances have taken him by surprise.
“It’s amazing. I couldn’t believe the first gold medal, after being injured, and now the second. It was the perfect race. I knew it would be hard and I was prepared for it,” he said.
Belarus gold double
Darya Domracheva from Belarus made it two golds in three days with victory in the women’s 15 km individual biathlon race.
She took the bronze in Vancouver but stepped up to the top of the podium in Sochi, beating Switzerland’s Selina Gasparin into second place, with compatriot Nadezhda Skardino in third.
Domracheva took the women’s pursuit title Tuesday on Tuesday and was in unbeatable form again, particularly in the shooting section of the competition.
Belarus later picked up its second gold of the day as 34-year-old Alla Tsuper, competing in her fifth Winter Games, finally found her way to the top of the podium in the women’s freestyle aerials competition.
Tsuper had never finished higher than fifth in her previous attempts but with a total score of 98.01 she was flying high.
Mengtao Xu of China took the silver, while defending champion Lydia Lassila of Australia won bronze.
Tsuper took two years out to start a family but came back to competition better than ever.
“I had a break for two years. I returned to the sport to have one more chance to have a medal. That was a dream,” she said.
Yarnold the new skeleton queen
Britain continued its domination of women’s skeleton as Lizzy Yarnold took the title won by compatriot Amy Williams four years ago.
Former track and field athlete Yarnold held the lead from the first run Thursday at the Slanki Sliding Center and finished nearly a second clear of Noelle Pikus-Pace of the United States over four sessions.
Elena Nikitina took the bronze for host nation Russia.
“I don’t think it’s going to sink in for a long time,” said Yarnold, who had to endure some nervous moments at the start of her final run.
“It was a messy fourth run but I just relaxed and enjoyed it. I wanted to do myself justice and show the world what I could do.”
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