Figure skating is one of the most popular events at the Winter Olympics. In Sochi, the men's competition is shaping up to be one of the most intense of the Games.
No other sport quite combines raw athleticism with theatrics the way that figure skating does. After a fiercely contested short program, the men will perform their free skate on Friday, and the combined scores from both events will decide who lands on the podium.
Read on as we take a look at the contenders who are vying for the gold in the men's free skate.
After putting his doubters to rest with a gold-medal performance in the team competition, heavily decorated Olympian Evgeni Plushenko withdrew from the singles competition abruptly with medical concerns, according to Nancy Armour of USA Today. The former Olympic champion's absence left a major void in the singles competition and opened the door for several other stars to step into the limelight.
The short program gave a taste of what to expect in the free skate. Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu stamped himself as a top threat for the gold medal with a flawless performance that earned him a score of 101.45 and set a new world record in the process. Canada's brightest star Patrick Chan was nearly perfect as well with an impressive score of 97.52.
The bar has been set high for these men going into the free skate. To land a spot on the podium, they need to bring a performance that is creative, difficult and technically flawless.
Going into the free skate, here are the top six:
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan) 101.45
2. Patrick Chan (Canada) 97.52
3. Javier Fernandez (Spain) 86.98
4. Daisuke Takahashi (Japan) 86.40
5. Peter Liebers (Germany) 86.04
6. Jason Brown (United States) 86.00
How will Team USA fare?
Despite several costly missteps, including a fall in the short program, Team USA has continued on valiantly and will try to add to the bronze hardware that it took home in the team competition. Both Jeremy Abbott and Jason Brown will need flawless performances in the free skate to have a chance at the podium.
Can Patrick Chan break the Canadian curse?
Despite a dominant presence at the Winter Olympics, Canada has not yet taken home the elusive gold medal in men's figure skating. Patrick Chan, after a disappointing finish at the Vancouver Games, is poised to try to make history and break that curse. He turned in a strong performance in the short program with a technically precise, beautiful skate and is a top contender to deliver for Canada.
Yuzuru Hanyu: 101.45
Representing Japan, the 19-year-old will make his Olympic debut and is no stranger to top international competition. His performance in the short program was exquisite, and he has established himself as a force to be reckoned with. He looks well on his way to his first individual Olympic medal after setting the bar high for his competitors with a world-record score in the short program.
Patrick Chan: 97.52
Canada's Patrick Chan has been in dominant, commanding form leading up to the Sochi Games. The 23-year-old will try to become the first skater to bring home the gold for Canada in this event. It is a coveted prize, and the popular athlete is a highly regarded contender to be on top of the podium.
Jason Brown: 86.00
Though not as experienced as his teammate, the 19-year-old decorated junior champion may be a star on the rise. His short-program performance was executed extremely well, and off that strong skate, he may be Team USA's strongest hope at a medal. He already earned his first piece of Olympic hardware in the team competition and will try to add to that.
Daisuke Takahashi: 86.40
Takahashi made history at the Vancouver Games for Japan when he became the first athlete to medal for the country in the men's singles event. Although his form has been inconsistent this year, he brings valuable experience to his team and is no stranger to performing well when it matters the most.
Javier Fernandez: 86.98
Though his showing at the Vancouver Games in 2010 was not particularly noteworthy, the 22-year-old from Spain seems to have quietly and steadily improved since then. His performance in the short program was sharp, and he may be a top under-the-radar contender to medal.
Jeremy Abbott: 72.58
Abbott's short program was far from perfect. The 28-year-old Colorado native took a hard fall on the landing of his quadruple jump and for a few agonizing seconds appeared to be seriously injured. Showing class and tenacity, he righted himself and continued on to execute the remainder of his skate without incident.
He was well-received by the audience and the judges seemed to reward his heart, giving him a score of 72.58. This was his second fall of the Sochi Games, and he will need to remain upright to be a medal contender in the free skate, though at this point he is a long shot.
With the pressure of a nation on his shoulders, Patrick Chan will try to make history and have to fight to keep his nerves in check. The competition is fierce, even with the unfortunate absence of Plushenko. The men's figure skating free skate should be a memorable event.
Gold: Patrick Chan
Silver: Yuzuru Hanyu
Bronze: Jason Brown