Men's Olympic Figure Skating Moves To Free Program

Some unfortunate falls have changed the outlook for men's figure skating. Japan and Canada are in the lead. And, Russian star Evgeni Plushenko withdrew from the competition because of a back problem.

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STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

There is certainly no truth to the rumor that that's the sound of people skating on the ice of the Mississippi River, but there's been plenty of skating at Sochi at the Winter Olympics. The men performed their free programs going for the gold on the ice. Japan and Canada are in the lead and NPR'S Sonari Glinton is on the line from Sochi to fill us in. Hi, Sonari.

SONARI GLINTON, BYLINE: Hey, Steve, how's it going?

INSKEEP: It's going okay. So the other night, I was watching the Olympics with my daughter and we watched this amazing performance by this Russian, Yuhgeny Plushenko, just an incredible figure skater, but now I hear he's out.

GLINTON: Yeah, Steve, Plushenko is 31 and believe it or not, in the figure skating world, 31 is kind of old. He hurt himself during practice and right before he performed his short program, he pulled out saying he was leaving for medical reasons. And this is an amazing figure in figure skating. He won a silver in 2002. He won a gold in 2006. He won a silver in 2010 and he helped the Russians win the gold this time.

This is a man who's beloved in this country and, you know, winning the gold is not a bad way to go out.

INSKEEP: And he had been injured on the way into this Olympics, right? It was remarkable that he even showed up.

GLINTON: Yeah. You can't underestimate how important it is for you to perform for your hometown when the Olympics has come for the first time in decades.

INSKEEP: Nevertheless, he's gone so the men have finished their short programs and they move onto the free program. Maybe you should define what that is for us and tell us who's in the lead.

GLINTON: Well, it's a longer program. It's almost twice the length and they get a little more artistic freedom. In the lead is Yuzuru Hanyu who's 19. He's technically brilliant and then there's Patrick Chan who's 23 who performed almost flawlessly and Javier Fernandez from Spain.

INSKEEP: Any American with a chance?

GLINTON: Jason Brown has a chance. Jeremy Abbott is in 15th and you can't see him getting to the top. He had this disastrous program during the team event and he also fell so hard during the short program that the beat reporter that who was sitting next to me said it was one of the worst falls she had ever seen. And he laid on the ground for what seemed like an eternity.

It was probably only like four or five seconds. Jason Brown, though, is between third place and sixth place. There is a one point difference. So he is in striking distance. He doesn't have a quad, which is one of these, you know, huge jumps and partly because of his youth, but he does a boat load of charisma and crowd appeal. And I think that whether or not he gets a medal, he'll definitely put on a show.

INSKEEP: Sonari, can I just ask, I've only ever seen these figure skaters on television sitting with my daughter or whatever and it is incredible to see them on the television, the athleticism, the balance, the G-force as it would seem sometimes. I'm wondering, since you're there watching them in person, what's it like to be there? What's it like to be looking down on the ice when they're doing that?

GLINTON: Well, you know, it's not like figure skaters are all selected all because of their athleticism. It's like, you know, who is the best person who is exposed to the sport. You can see the really great athletes like Jason Brown who sort of defies gravity sometimes and you can see it even when you're up in the balcony how hard they come down and how lively they jump.

I mean, it's really an amazing thing when you can see from yards away the water and the ice shoot up from the ground. I really have never seen anything quite like it.

INSKEEP: Sonari, thanks very much.

GLINTON: Thank you.

INSKEEP: That's NPR's Sonari Glinton. He's in Sochi.

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