Can I pick ’em or can I pick ’em?
Four years ago, I picked Evan Lysacek to win gold in men’s figure skating in Vancouver, and he did. The moment the new team competition began in Sochi, I knew that Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan would win the men’s gold. He just had the right combination of athleticism and artistry, focus and looseness – even if his free skate was less impressive than his short program.
Still, he was clutch while Patrick Chan of Canada, the three-time world champion, never seemed to lose his deer-caught-in-the-headlights quality. Just as some people seem to inspire confidence, others make you wonder why they can’t consistently come through when it’s all on the line. As NBC commentators Scott Hamilton and Sandra Bezic noted, Hanyu’s flawed free skate left the door open, and yet, Chan failed to walk through.
Among the others who initially at least failed to capitalize on opportunity was American Jeremy Abbott, who had a painful fall in the short program. Yet he recovered beautifully to finish the short, then skated a personal best in the free skate. Sometimes it takes the thing you most fear – a metaphoric or literal fall – to make you realize you have nothing to lose so you might as well go for it.
It was great to see him come back, great to see Denis Ten of Kazakhstan take the bronze – Chan got the silver – great to see Daisuke Takahashi in his final Olympic skate and great to see the future of American men’s skating in Jason Brown, a guy who seems as open-hearted away from the rink as he is expressive on it.
And while Evgeni Plushenko had to withdraw due to injury – and subsequently retired amid some controversy and criticism – he showed poise and a philosophical attitude in his interview with NBC’s “Today,” even thanking former rival Lysacek for his support. Perhaps like the athletes in my new novel “Water Music,” they’ve come to realize that rivalry – like careers – ends. What remains is the love that drew you both to the sport to begin with.