Looking at the top finishers in the men's individual figure skating event at the 2014 Olympic Games, it's clear that the highly competitive field of young international stars will yield another closely contested event in 2018.
Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu won gold in Sochi at the age of 19, while Canada's Patrick Chen (23) and Kazakhstan's Denis Ten (20) finished with silver and bronze, respectively. Spain's Javier Fernandez (22) finished in fourth, while Tatsuki Machida (23) from Japan rounded out the top five finishers at the 2014 Winter Games.
Between the five men, the average age of the world's top men's skaters at Sochi was 21.4 years old.
It's worth noting that the competition in Sochi was far from sharp. Many of the top contestants failed to register clean programs, as pointed out by Deadspin, which called the contest "a disaster":
Men's figure skating was an absolute mess from start to finish: http://t.co/ws0BXg8FcG— Deadspin (@Deadspin) February 14, 2014
As USA Today's Chris Chase put it:
Pressure was the only winner of the men’s free skate at the Iceberg Skating Palace. Contender after contender failed to take advantage of beneficial circumstances and turned one of the marquee sessions of the Winter Olympics into a battle of attrition.
However, when one considers the relative youth of those who did manage to come out ahead, it's easy to understand why clean programs were so hard to come by.
“I’ve never been this nervous,” Hanyu said after completing the free skate routine at his first Olympics, via Linda Robertson of the Miami Herald. “I’m upset with the performance I had, but I left everything out there.”
Thankfully for Hanyu and his supporters in Japan, he was able to hang on to the gold thanks to mistakes by his competitors and his record-breaking short program.
Another interesting result that came out of these Games was that 2014 was the first year since 1936 that neither the United States nor Russia/Soviet Union medaled in the event, as pointed out by ESPN Stats & Info:
Sochi marks the 1st time since 1936 that neither the United States nor Russia/Soviet Union medalled in Men's Singles Figure Skating— ESPN Stats & Info (@ESPNStatsInfo) February 14, 2014
It would seem the torch has been passed.
The Olympics offers the greatest test the world has to offer these elite athletes, and experience oftentimes makes a big difference. While the free program resembled a comedy of errors at times, the young stars who competed and medaled earned valuable experience for the next go-round.
Most—if not all—of the top performers in 2014 will be back for more action in 2018, barring an unfortunate injury. Figure skating fans will be in for a real treat when the men hit the ice in Pyeongchang, South Korea, four years from now.
Furthermore, there will be an entirely new crop of youngsters coming into South Korea as the stars on the junior circuit make their way to the big leagues, so to speak.
Fans can expect to see more polish, less spills and plenty of fierce competition in this event four years from now, as Hanyu, Ten and the rest of the world's top skaters continue to push the envelope with bigger and better jumps and more complex routines.
Follow me on Twitter @JesseReed78