It was not a surprise to anyone who has watched figure skating at the Olympics before, but today's men's short program was a testament to how the Olympics can both create magic and wreak havoc. As expected, we got tremendous skating from some of the favorites. But we also got nervy, tentative skating from Nathan Chen, who was the only skater to come in undefeated this season.
The Olympics does crazy things to otherwise sane athletes - sometimes, it turns them into superhumans; other times, it reminds us of how human some of them are.
Recap/videos: Men's short program
Training mates go 1-2
Among those superhumans were the two men who have won the past four World titles - and they happen to be friends and training mates. Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernandez were flawless in their pursuit for the Olympic title.
There were questions coming in about Hanyu's condition following the injury that he sustained in November. He only started doing triple axels three weeks ago, quads two weeks ago. But he showed this week that his fantastic technique was all he needed to get himself back on track. We've seen this program done to its max before, and it was incredible to witness it happen again in front of a crowd that was deafening by the time he hit his final jump. Frankly, as tough as it was for him to claw back from it, this injury could have been just the thing to settle his skating and get Hanyu to do what Hanyu does best.
For Fernandez, in his third and final Olympics, this is a chance for him to tie a bow around his splendid career. Two World titles, six European titles, but he let that Olympic medal slip four years ago on a technicality. A medal here would complete an already-historic career for Spain. Fernandez went out today and skated like nothing was in his way, it was effortless and flawless - and no one in this field has the charm that he does.
The beautiful thing about Hanyu and Fernandez today was that they showed off two vastly different yet equally wondrous styles of skating. It was inward vs. outward, ethereal vs. charismatic, abstract vs. character. You can't help but watch these programs over and over again - two of the greatest short programs in Olympic history.
More greatness to witness
The three behind Hanyu and Fernandez delivered greatness themselves. And it was expected from Shoma Uno and Boyang Jin, who are within a point of each other after delivering outstanding short programs.
But it was Dmitri Aliev who continues to surprise in the second half of this season. After an unexpected silver at Europeans, he came to PyeongChang, hid out of the spotlight until just yesterday, and made a career-best Olympic debut with upgraded technical content. No time but the present.
Chen is human after all
Coming in undefeated this season, Nathan Chen could not have asked for a worse start to his Olympic debut than he had in the Team Event. His prospects today hinged on his first jump - if he hit it, his Olympics would have turned around; if he missed it, there's no telling how much further it could spiral.
But there was no assertiveness in his opening. He was going through the motions but it was completely tentative. His opening choreography covered far less ice than it usually does, and by the time he went up for his quad lutz, it was a hope and a prayer that he might somehow pull off a miracle. It wasn't to be.
He tried to play it safer and switched his flip with his more consistent toe, but there was no confidence in his landing. Medal chances were all but gone when he flipped out of his triple axel, and he finds himself in 17th after the short program. Crazily enough, his actual placement belies how close it is - Chen, at 82.27, is less than six points away from seventh place. It's a point difference that he can easily make up with his free skate.
Tomorrow's another day. Chen's trajectory as a skater will owe a lot to a redeeming skate.
And some history made today
At 17, Vincent Zhou is the youngest skater on the American team. He also became the first skater to ever land a clean quad lutz in Olympic competition. As he himself noted in the mixed zone after his historic short program, he's the first only as a result of the skate order. But it's a first nonetheless. When it was all said and done, that list would grow to three, with Aliev and Jin landing quad lutzes in their short programs as well.