Israeli figure skaters Alexei Bychenko and Daniel Samohin qualified for the Olympic finals Friday, with finishes of 13th and 18th respectively in the short program qualifying heat.
Defending Olympic champion, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, led the field with a record 111.68 points, building more than a four-point lead over Spain’s Javier Fernandez.
Bychenko, skating to “Hava Nagila,” managed a total of 84.13 points for his routine.
Samohin was not far behind, with 80.69 points for his routine skated to “L’Immensita” by Il Volo.
Neither Israeli, however, looks likely to score a podium finish as the top 24 skaters, out of a field of 30, progress to the final round — Saturday’s decisive free skate at the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Placed third, over seven points adrift of his compatriot, was another Japanese skater, Shoma Uno, with China’s Jin Boyang lying fourth.
In what amounted to a high-wire act complemented by superb spins and intricate footwork amid intense pressure, the top four skaters were magnificent and spotless.
“I probably could get a little bit more points into the program, but not much more,” said Fernandez, who happens to share the same coach with Hanyu: two-time Olympic medalist Brian Orser. “We’re hitting the limits of figure skating right now.”
Hanyu’s countryman Shoma Uno was third at 104.17, followed by China’s Jin Boyang at 103.32.
Two-time US champion Nathan Chen, a pre-games favorite, was anything but spot-on. He missed on all his jumps, plummeting to 17th place with a tentative and passionless showing.
Israel has never won a medal in the Winter Olympics, but has fielded more athletes in recent years, partly in thanks to an influx of Russian immigrants. Its 10 athletes competing in Pyeongchang this year is a record for the country in the Winter Games.