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Hanyu halfway to Olympic gold

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu grabbed the lead after the short program in men’s singles with an absolutely magnificent performance that resulted in a world-record score at the Iceberg Skating Palace on Thursday night.

Hanyu skated to “Parisian Walkways” and received a total of 101.45 points, the highest ever in an international competition. He will take a commanding lead of nearly four points into Friday’s free skate.

In the face of immense pressure, the Sendai native looked remarkably calm and executed his elements in clinical fashion. He became the first skater ever to top the 100-point mark in an International Skating Union event.

The 19-year-old soared on his opening quadruple toe loop, then landed a triple axel and a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination flawlessly. His step sequence and spins were sublime.

When Hanyu came off the ice he was greeted enthusiastically by coach Brian Orser, who seemed more fired up than his student.

Hanyu, the 2010 world junior champion, was the 19th skater of the 30 in the short program. He was the first of the fourth group to take the ice.

Canada’s Patrick Chan, the three-time defending world champion, is in second place with 97.52, while Spain’s Javier Fernandez is third on 86.98.

Daisuke Takahashi, who has been battling an injury to his right knee, performed to “Sonatino for Violin” and is in fourth place (86.40).

The bronze medalist at the 2010 Vancouver Games two-footed the landing on his quad toe loop, but went on to hit a triple axel and a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.

In a dramatic and unxexpected development, Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko was injured during the six-minute warmup and withdrew for medical reasons.

“I’m over the moon,” said Hanyu, who is poised to become the first Japanese man to win the Olympic gold medal.  “I took it one element at a time. I was very, very surprised by the score.”

Hanyu said he was not shooting for the century mark.

“I wasn’t trying to clear 100 points,” he stated. “I was just trying to turn in the best performance I possibly could – and I did.”

Hanyu knows there remains work to be done..

“I did everything I possibly could today,” he commented. “I will enjoy this for tonight and rest up for tomorrow because it’s another day. I’m not thinking about a medal yet.”

Chan was 21st on the starting list and competed to “Elegie.” He hit his opening quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo, but stepped out on the landing of his triple axel, before executing a triple lutz.

Though the 23-year-old Chan earned a slightly higher program component score than his younger rival, Hanyu’s technical element tally was 4.5 points better than the Canadian’s.

Hanyu beat Chan to win the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka in December.

“It was a big improvement from the team event,” said Chan. “I got the quad-toe and triple-toe out there and my triple axel is getting more confident.”

Despite the deficit, Chan is not counting himself out for the gold.

“Four points I made up before in the long program,” he noted. “I have done it before and I have quite an arsenal for the long program. It’s going to be a whole new day tomorrow and a whole new competition.”

Fernandez performed to “Satan Takes a Holiday” and began with a quad salchow, before landing a triple axel and triple lutz/triple toe combo.

“It wasn’t my day, I was stumbling a lot,” said Fernandez. “The only thing you can do is fight until the end, that’s what I did.”

Takahashi gave an honest assessment of his performance and a shot at a second Olympic medal.

“I blew the quad,” he said. “I have got to have a perfect skate tomorrow. I couldn’t skate to the best of my ability today, but I did what I could.”

The Okayama native said he unsettled himself before the music started.

“Tonight I was very nervous,” he stated. “I thought too much about my quad. I have got to focus on myself tomorrow. I just couldn’t hold my nerves from start to finish.”

Tatsuki Machida skated to “East of Eden” and opened with a quad toe loop, but doubled the planned triple toe loop part of the combo. He hit a triple axel, but then doubled a triple lutz and is in 11th place at 83.48.

“It’s killing me,” Machida said afterward. “I didn’t perform the way I’m capable of performing. But I’m in a position where if I skate well enough in the free program, I still have a shot at a medal.”

Takahashi (29th) and Machida (30th) were the final two skaters of the evening.

Plushenko, who helped lead the host nation to the gold medal in the team event, attempted a triple axel in the warmup but pulled out of it, then landed akwardly and was in obvious pain afterward.

The 31-year-old took the ice when his name was announced, but skated over to technical referee and informed him he was withdrawing.

“In the warmup I did the triple loop and triple lutz, but after the first triple axel I stepped out and felt terrible pain in my leg and the second one was just a terrible landing,” he said. “I couldn’t feel my legs after it.”

Plushenko said his back was bothering him on Wednesday in practice.

“Yesterday I fell on the quad toe in training and I felt a problem in my back,” he stated. “Today I went into training to see what I could do, but I couldn’t jump.”

The skating legend, who has three world titles and four Olympic medals on his resume, was apologetic afterward.

“I am sorry for my fans and everybody, but I tried until the end,” he said. “This is not how I wanted to end my career.”

American Jeremy Abbott took a nasty spill on his quad toe loop and was down on the ice for several seconds before getting up and continuing.

The four-time U.S. champion received a big ovation from the crowd at the end of his program for carrying on. He is 15th with 72.58.

The top 24 skaters advance to the free skate.