SOCHI, Russia Yuzuru Hanyu stayed crouched in his final pose, head bowed, certain the Olympic gold medal was gone.
But three-time world champion Patrick Chan, skating right after the Japanese teenager, faltered even worse and, for once, the judges refused to bail the Canadian out.
Hanyu became Japan s first Olympic champion in men s figure skating Friday night, winning the gold medal in one of the sport s stunning finishes. Even with two falls early in his program, Hanyu edged Chan in the free skate and, coupled with his win in the short program, finished almost five points ahead.
Chan, who skated right after Hanyu, was stunned when he saw the big No. 2 next to his name. He sat in Kiss and Cry for several minutes to compose himself, not moving even after a Canadian skating official came over to reassure him. Chan has become used to winning with errors, including at last year s world championship.
But it was not to be on this night, as Canada s Olympic curse continued. The Canadians have never won a gold medal in men s figure skating, with Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko all falling short.
I had that gold medal around my neck and I didn t grasp it. Chan admitted. At the end of the day, I have two heavy medals around my neck, and they re silver. Unfortunately it wasn t the gold, but I m not going to let that affect my whole career.
Denis Ten of Kazakhstan, the silver medalist at last year s world championships, was third.
Jason Brown of the United States, sixth after the short program, fell to ninth. Jeremy Abbott finished 12th, though he skated without a fall for the first time in three appearances here. Hanyu said he was not happy with my program and did not think about whether he had won the gold when he finished.
No, I was so tired, he said. I was so tired. I was just so tired.
Then Orser came up and gave him a pat on the back. Hanyu broke into a big smile.
Oh my, he told his coach.
Orser told him, A win is a win is a win. I know you re tired. Are you happy?
I m happy, he said.
Added Orser: It s gonna sink in. This is history, all right. ... Enjoy.
Orser may never have won gold on the ice, but he now has two straight behind the boards. He led Yuna Kim to her majestic victory four years ago in Vancouver, and now has taken Hanyu to the top of the podium.
Just 19, Hanyu established himself as a contender for gold with a victory at the Grand Prix final in December. If he was feeling the weight of the expectations, he sure didn t look it with dazzling performances in the short programs of the team competition and men s event.
But as Chan said after the short program, the target is much bigger at the Olympics.
Hanyu popped several jumps in warm-ups and looked unsettled, a far cry from the cool kid he d been all Olympics. He still looked nervous when he took the ice for his skate, weaving in and out of the sweepers who were trying to gather up all the bouquets that had been thrown for Daisuke Takahashi, who d skated before Hanyu.
After his name was announced, Hanyu blew out his breath several times and glanced at the scoreboard.
He crashed hard to the ice on his opening jump, a quadruple salchow. He came right back with a lovely quad toe, only to fall on a triple flip. But he regrouped to finish the rest of his program in style.
Though Hanyu usually has better hops than a kangaroo, it s his elegance and performance quality that are most remarkable. Skating to Romeo and Juliet, his edge quality was so magnificent Sochi organizers could cut up the ice and sell the carvings from his blades. His spins are tight, quick and perfectly centered, and he does them in such unique positions it looks as if he s got rubber for bones.
But judges have made a habit of propping up Chan he won last year s world title despite several major errors in his free skate and he was still to come.
Chan opened with a gorgeous quad toe loop triple toe loop combination, done with such speed and flow he looked as if he was flying. But he slipped on the landing of his second quad, another toe, and had to put his hands to the ice to keep from falling.
He stumbled out of the landing of his triple axel, and did the same on a double axel at the end of the program. He also doubled a planned triple salchow.
His footwork was superb, as always, his blades whispering across the ice. But his performance lacked its usual emotional power.