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Men’s Olympic figure skating emotionally destroyed me

This week has been rough for the figure skating world. Between a Russian drug scandal and missed jumps, the 2022 Beijing Olympics has been shocking. Going into the men’s competition, I was torn between rooting for Japanese skater Yuzuru Hanyu or American skater Nathan Chen: “The Prince” versus “The Quad King.” 

 

Both are legends in their own right—with Hanyu having the most grace I’ve ever seen on the ice, and Chen being the most precise jumper in the game. Scoring is based on two different components: technique and artistry. Technique comes in the elements on the ice—the jumps, the spins, the step sequences. Each of these tricks has a base value score of points, but the points each skater earns depends on their level of performance. Judges award “grade of execution” points, ranging from negative five to positive five, to be added to the base score to determine the overall value for a trick. The artistry, on the other hand, looks into factors like the grace in their movements or the relation between music and choreography. 

 

Each skater gets to perform twice: first in the short program (this year on Monday, Feb. 7), and later in the free skate, aka the long program (this year on Wednesday, Feb. 9). The short program is just under three minutes long, and the long program is about four and a half minutes. Tricks are worth more points when performed in the second half of a program, as skating is a test of pacing and managing fatigue. The scores of both programs are combined to make a skater’s total score.

 

Hanyu and Chen often have programs of similar difficulty, so the fight for the gold medal was supposed to come down to slight differences in artistry and grade of execution points. Never could I have imagined a score gap like the one that happened. Hanyu scored a combined 283.21 points, while Nathan Chen scored 332.60 points. 

 

In a shocking upset, Hanyu did not earn a spot on the podium at the 2022 Olympic games. As a two time defending gold medalist, Hanyu was favored to win, potentially placing second only to Chen. Instead, Hanyu ended in fourth place. In his short program, Hanyu missed his first jump, a quadruple Salchow. Instead of completing the required four in-air rotations, Hanyu only completed one. Unfortunately, single Salchows are worth zero points at this level. A quad Salchow would’ve earned Hanyu at least 10 points, likely more given his typical high level of execution. This left him in eighth place after the short program. 

 

Hanyu needed a free skate performance that was better than perfect if he wanted to podium. Though he was brave enough to attempt the quad axel—a jump so challenging that no one else has ever dared to try it in competition—he didn’t land it, leading to deductions for falling. He fell on his second jump as well, losing any chances he had of ending the night on the podium. Despite his rocky start, the rest of Hanyu’s show was stunning. The choreography lined up beautifully with the classical piece he was skating to. His artistry was so overwhelmingly gorgeous, I was moved to tears. No matter ranking, Hanyu is number one in my heart and forever in the history books for his quad axel. 

 

Hanyu is the best skater on the ice, sorry, Chen. Chen’s technical prowess is undeniable—there’s a reason he’s known as the “The Quad King.” But, while he is beautiful, he is soulless. He skates like a robot, technically perfect, but lacking any emotion. His artistry scores are embarrassingly overinflated, especially in the short program. 

 

Chen miraculously grew emotions, though, for this “Rocketman” free skate. The first half of the routine was as monotone as his first performance, but something changed towards the back half. Perhaps it was the relief of knowing that he had secured his spot as a gold medalist, but Chen’s last two minutes of “Rocketman” were the strongest performance I’ve ever seen from him. I think he had one wobble on a landing, just a hair of imperfection, but his artistry has never been higher. Chen looked engaged in his skating! The last minute of his show added hip hop style dance moves, done to a rap track. The Chen that skated on Monday could have never pulled this off, but Wednesday’s Chen sold an easy cool vibe that completely contrasted with everything I’ve complained about. 

 

Also endlessly cool was American skater Jason Brown. Though he might not be the most technically advanced skater, he is truly one of the most exciting to watch. Despite having zero quad jumps, Brown ranked sixth after the short program, ahead of many skaters who attempted quad jumps. Though his steady stream of triple jumps—completing three rotations in air—are worth less points than his competitors’ quads, he executed them so cleanly that it didn’t matter. His “Sinnerman” short program was flawless, not so much as a wobbly skate out of place. Brown delivered the same level of excellence with his long program as well. I was in awe watching him skate so cleanly. His skating looks so effortless, and Brown looks happy every second he’s on the ice. He has this magnetic energy that is so potent, it radiates through the screen. His long program was performed with the same level of grace, earning him crazy high points on the grade of execution. He ended the competition in sixth place, a feat given the lower base score of all of his jumps. Brown reminds us that skating isn’t just about tricks, it’s about being able to evoke a reaction from a crowd and throw your entire heart into a show. 

 

Other standout performances include Mexico’s Donovan Carrillo. Carrillo is beloved in my Ziv, now, to the point where we all squealed the second we saw him during our Wednesday night watch party. He is so charismatic and so joyful, it’s impossible not to smile when you watch him. Even though both his runs had challenges, he walked off the ice beaming each time. He is the first Mexican skater to ever make it to the free skate portion of Olympic competition, and that is more important than any falls Carrillo makes. He also had some of the best outfits we saw this season, not afraid to be covered in sequins. 

 

Outfits are important to the overall skating show, either adding or taking away from the overall theme. France’s Adam Siao Him Fa skated to music from “Star Wars” for his short program, and wore a version of a Jedi outfit to match. Obviously, he looked phenomenal. The other French competitor, Kevin Aymoz, skated to Prince for his short program and wore a gorgeous purple top, a nod to the singer. Hanyu’s outfits were as stellar as always, this year playing with baby blues for both of his performances. Words can’t describe how beautiful he looked. 

 

Unsurprisingly, Chen had the worst costumes both nights. I’m almost positive that Vera Wang—yes, THAT Vera Wang—hates him, considering she keeps giving him the most boring outfits I’ve ever seen. His first performance featured a play on the tux, completely bland.. We saw Chen in color for his long program, a rarity, but that shirt was a nightmare. I don’t know who told Wang that bright orange galaxy print was back in style, but that was the crime of the century. His outfit was giving 2013 Tumblr boy, not Olympic skater about to win his first gold. 

 

I still love Chen, though—and obviously, Hanyu too. I hope the boys keep skating past this season and that I can see them compete again. The two of them keep proving that to be a legendary skater, you have to truly be cutting edge.

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