Oh, Patrick! Canadian boy wonder Patrick Chan out of podium picture

Glorious gold-medal final promised, Thursday

Patrick Chan, Canada’s great hope in the men’s figure skating field, stumbled early in front of a loud and adoring crowd in Vancouver last night; it was the first of three costly errors that pushed the 19-year-old into seventh place—and out of medal contention ahead of Thursday’s free skate (Chan also stumbled in a step sequence, and took a one-point deduction for finishing behind his music in the 2 1/2-minute program).

“I don’t have an answer for it,” Chan said when asked about the early mistake. “I don’t know what happened,” he added—valiantly flashing that trademark, wide-eyed smile. “I’ve been playing it over in my mind.”

All, however, is not lost. Chan, the 2009 world silver medalist, will be a more mature 23 at Sochi. And hey—we’ve got us a great race for gold, come Thursday. The top three—Turin gold-medallist Russian Evgeni Plushenko, U.S. reigning world champ, Evan Lysacek, and Japan’s Daisuke Takahashit—are so close, they’re virtually tied.

Already, some have begun hyping the event as the most riveting figure skating final since the “Battle of the Brians,” at Calgary ’88.

Plushenko, who came out of a three-year retirement at the behest of his new wife rocketed to the top spot early with a 90.85 score (and a stunning, trademark quad). Lysacek, dressed in a raven-inspired (I think), skin-tight black unitard finished just .55 points behind him. Neither he, nor Takahashit—who came just .05 points behind him—attempted a quad.

“Without quadruples, I don’t know, sorry, but it’s not men. It’s not men’s figure skating,” Plushenko has said, taunting his competitors.

Retirement, clearly, has neither dulled Plushenko’s edge, nor his pizazz. He flirted shamelessly with the adoring crowd, the cameras, even some of the judges. Before leaving the ice, the blond, 27-year-old kissed his gloved knuckles then mimed brandishing a sword high in the air, sheathing it at his left.

Once untouchable, however, he’s facing tough competition for gold tomorrow.

Lysacek—the U.S.’s best hope for a gold since Brian Boitano took it from Canada’s Brian Orser at Calgary—was uncharacteristically emotional following his dazzling short program, pumping his fists, dropping to his knees and burying his head in his hands; as his scores appeared, he fought back tears. He later admitted that he’d been feeling pressure as the reigning world champion, and that he’d had a “little bit of a monkey” on his back, thinking back to his last Olympics, where he “blew” his short program, and had the “worst night” of his life.

The trio will have a day to prepare for the free skate; Plushenko, known as the “Quad King,” will try to become the first man to win repeat gold medals since 1952 with a jump-heavy program tomorrow.

“It’s the Olympic Games, so I will be nervous,” Plushenko said. “But I have a gold Olympic medal and I have a silver Olympic medal. I don’t care about the result.”