An Olympic legend withdrew with injury and the top-ranked American crashed hard in the opening round of men's figure skating in Sochi on Thursday, throwing the competition into early disarray — until the event's other big stars took the ice.
Russian Evgeni Plushenko, regarded as a favorite to win gold, withdrew seconds before he was to begin his short-skate routine, clutching his surgically repaired back.
A few minutes later, American Jeremy Abbott, out to redeem himself after a spill in the team competition last week, tumbled again — hard. He missed a landing on a quadruple spin, slid into the boards and lay on the ice for several seconds before picking himself up and resuming his routine.
Those twin disasters dominated the first half of the day's competition.
A Japanese teenager dominated the rest.
Yuzuru Hanyu, a 19-year-old from Japan competing in his first Olympics, rose to the occasion with a sizzling routine that the judges scored as a 101.45, a record for a men's short program.
Spain’s Javier Fernandez, another top contender, followed Hanyu with a slightly flawed routine that earned a 86.98, enough for third place.
After Fernandez came Patrick Chan of Canada, the three-time world champion who lost to Hanyu last month in the Grand Prix final and last Friday in the men's short skate program of the Olympic team competition.
Chan had slipped up in that earlier program, and is out to become the first Canadian to win men’s gold. He wobbled on one jump in an otherwise flawless routine, scoring a second-place 97.52.
That set up a showdown between Chan and Hanyu in Friday’s long program, the free skate, which will determine the gold medal winner.
American Jason Brown scored an 86.00 on a technically proficient routine that placed him sixth, and among a handful of contenders in a tight race for bronze.
Brown remained America's only hope, after Abbott took himself out.
Abbott's routine ended admirably, however. With the Iceberg Skating Palace crowd urging him on, Abbott rose from the ice and somehow synced back up with his musical soundtrack. He nailed the remainder of his jumps.
He ended with his face in a competitive snarl, then smiled, his head in his hands. He scored a 72.58.
"The second I stood up and the crowd just started screaming, I had to finish," Abbott said afterward.
More disturbing than Abbott's wipe-out was Plushenko's quitting.
The decision ended Plushenko's storied Olympic career, and dashed the Russians' hope at gold in the men's program after dominating figure skating in Sochi thus far. Plushenko was the only Russian entered in the men's event..
Last weekend, Plushenko, 31, fought through back pain to lead the Russians to first place in the team event. He tied an Olympic figure skating record, becoming the second figure skater to win medals in four consecutive Winter Games. His haul includes silver in Salt Lake City in 2002, gold in Torino in 2006, silver in Vancouver in 2010, and gold in 2014.
That feat had not been achieved since Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden in 1920-1932.
After his withdrawal, Plushenko announced his retirement.
"This is end of my career but I try to make best, you know," Plushenko said.