SOCHI, Russia (AP) — Barring a shocking result in the free skate, a country will celebrate its first men's Olympic gold medal in figure skating Friday night.
Unless Germany's Peter Liebers or 19-year-old American Jason Brown soar from sixth place to take the title — highly improbable, even though both are well within range of a bronze — the top spot on the podium at the Sochi Games will go to a newcomer: Japan, Canada or Spain.
Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada came into the Olympics as the favorite, but he's been outskated twice already by Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu. The momentum Hanyu carries into the free skate is substantial after he became the first skater to break the 100-point mark in a short program on Thursday.
Now he could not only become the first Japanese men's Olympic champ, but the first from any Asian country.
"I wouldn't say I'm happy with my scores," said Hanyu, who certainly looked thrilled when he double-pumped his fists after his 101.45 was posted. "I should be happy where I am now in this Olympics."
Chan, the latest Canadian to challenge for the men's crown — remember Donald Jackson, Brian Orser, Kurt Browning and Elvis Stojko? — said he likes his position, too. But he is nearly four points behind, and Hanyu hasn't missed a thing in Sochi.
"Remember that I'm doing this for myself, not for anyone else, not for Canada, not for the media," Chan said. "Taking a deep breath out there and remember that I'm only going to get one more chance to skate in front of an audience on Olympic ice. Really enjoy the moment and have fun."
One man having plenty of fun in the short program, with designs on two medals, is Orser, who guided Yuna Kim to her 2010 title in Vancouver. He now coaches Hanyu and Javier Fernandez of Spain, which has never won an Olympic figure skating medal of any color.
"When I first got him," Orser said of Hanyu, "he was just like a 16-year-old athlete that just wants to do more, more, more, faster, better, more, more. It was a little bit erratic. We had to rein him in a little bit, organize him better, so that you can become reliable on competition day rather than just taking a gamble."
Now, he looks like almost a sure thing.
Fernandez trails Hanyu by more than 12 points and will need a major swing in the standings to win. Instead, he might be concentrating on holding off 2010 silver medalist Daisuke Takahashi of Japan, who is .58 points behind. Liebers is fifth, .94 in back of the two-time European champ, and the surprising Brown is .98 behind.
Throw in French veteran Brian Joubert and China's Yan Han, and the race for bronze could be wild.
One man no longer in contention is Evgeni Plushenko. The Russian star retired Thursday just after he withdrew from the men's event for medical reasons.
The 31-year-old Plushenko is the only modern-era figure skater to win medals in four Olympics. He helped Russia win the team gold over the weekend.
AP Sports Writer Rachel Cohen and freelancer Marie Millikan contributed to this story.