There are still three marquee figure skating events remaining in the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi, Russia, and, with each competition, there are some notable storylines to follow as the action unfolds.
Those athletes stealing the headlines are deserving of the attention due to their virtuoso performances in the previous events. While the host Russia has overshadowed the sport with an inaugural gold medal in the team competition, soon the focus will shift even more toward the elite individuals on the ice.
Here is a closer examination of the top developments to watch for in the coming days when the Winter Games' figure skaters show off their graceful skills.
Men's Free Skate Rematch: Yuzuru Hanyu vs. Patrick Chan
Not only did Hanyu edge out Chan for the gold in the 2013-14 Figure Skating Grand Prix, but the 19-year-old Japanese sensation also beat out his Canadian adversary in the short program during the team competition.
Sad news came on Thursday when Evgeni Plushenko had to withdraw from the individual men's short program due to medical reasons, which forced his retirement shortly thereafter.
"Age, it's OK. But I have 12 surgeries. I'd like to be healthy," said Plushenko, per an Associated Press report on ESPN.com.
The reason for such focus on the Russian favorite is that it is a devastating blow for the host nation, and it is worth highlighting since the 31-year-old won the singles gold in 2006. That eliminates a big competitor for Hanyu, too—but it may not have mattered after Thursday's amazing effort.
Hanyu set a world record with a 101.45 score—almost four points in front of Chan, who was no slouch either with a score of 97.52.
CBSSports.com's Will Brinson gave his input, implying Hanyu's reign in men's figure skating is just beginning:
Since Friday's free program score is combined with the one from the short program, there is no question Hanyu is in prime position to take to the top of the podium. Barring an unforeseen spill at the Iceberg Skating Palace, look for Hanyu to continue rising to the occasion with the gold in tow.
American Pair Glides Toward Ice Dance History
Meryl Davis and Charlie White have been dominant as can be to date, seemingly poised to make up for a silver medal in the 2010 Vancouver Games with a gold this time around in the ice dance final.
To kick off their quest for gold, Davis and White placed first in the ice dance short dance during the team competition, gaining 10 points for the Americans in the process. The dynamic duo then added an additional 10 points in the ice dance free dance to cap off the USA's bronze-winning effort.
That last performance of 114.34 was the highest score in free dance history, per Arizona's 12 News:
After being the primary driving force for the U.S. team's success in this sport, it's time for Davis and White to reap the benefits of their individual greatness in what is a highly individualistic discipline to begin with.
Perhaps that's part of what makes their flawless routines so captivating to watch in action, along with bearing the burden of expectations that suggest anything less than a gold would be a disappointment.
Davis and White have lived up to the hype so far, and there's nothing that suggests they'll be denied so close to their ultimate goal. Canada's Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir won gold in Vancouver in 2010 and provide a legitimate threat, but they have not been on the same level as their American rivals in these Olympics.
Teenage Dream Battle for Ladies' Figure Skating Supremacy
The USA's Ashley Wagner fell twice in her last runs before the Sochi Games but still qualified for the team and held her own with a fourth-place effort in the ladies' team short program.
While Wagner should threaten to win the bronze, the gold medal appears destined to come down to two teenage prodigies in Russia's Julia Lipnitskaia and the Wagner's compatriot Gracie Gold.
Lipnitskaia—like Davis and White in pairs—won both her events in the team competition and gave Russia 20 points. At age 15, her skills on the ice appear unmatched by more seasoned veterans and gifted youngsters (such as Gold) alike.
Gold couldn't help but respect her budding rival, per ESPN.com's Bonnie D. Ford:
What should give the 18-year-old Gold some confidence is that she placed second in the free program behind Lipnitskaia and put on her own impressive display. She will just need to pull out all the stops to pull off what many will likely perceive as an upset.
Since the margin for the team competition was so heavily in favor of Russia—and the USA was unable to compete consistently across the board—Gold has a chance to take back bragging rights by beating Lipnitskaia.
There shouldn't be much pressure on Gold since she isn't the perceived favorite, but Lipnitskaia—whether it's innocent naivety or an impeccable ability to perform in the clutch—hasn't shown signs of being beatable yet.
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