Two Israelis impress in Olympic men’s figure skating
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Two Israelis impress in Olympic men’s figure skating

Alexei Bychenko takes rare top 10 finish, with Daniel Samohin in 11th as both athletes post personal best scores

Israel's Alexei Bychenko competes in the men's single skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS)
Israel's Alexei Bychenko competes in the men's single skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung on February 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / ARIS MESSINIS)

Israeli figure skaters Alexei Bychenko and Daniel Samohin made an impressive showing at the Olympic finals on Saturday with the veteran Bychenko racking up a rare top 10 finish in a strong field.

Bychenko finished with 172.88 points in ninth place, sneaking in one place above US fan favorite Adam Rippon. Bychenko has been in 13th position after the short program  skating to “Hava Nagila.”

Israel’s Alexei Bychenko (C) reacts after competing in the men’s single skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, on February 17, 2018. ( AFP PHOTO / Roberto SCHMIDT)

Samohin finished in 11th place with 170.75 points, up from 18th after the short program.

Both Israeli athletes posted personal best scores.

Israel’s Daniel Samohin competes in the men’s single skating free skating of the figure skating event during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games at the Gangneung Ice Arena in Gangneung, on February 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / Roberto SCHMIDT)

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 immigrants from the former Soviet Union. Its 10 athletes competing in Pyeongchang this year is a record for the country in the Winter Games.

The gold was won by defending Olympic champion, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu who also leaped into the figure skating history books, becoming the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952.

“Just happy. I can’t say anymore, just happy,” Hanyu said through his ever-present smile. “I just did my best today. I don’t know if this is the best of my skating life, but I can say from my heart that I skated my best today.”

He held off countryman Shoma Uno and Spain’s Javier Fernandez in the free skate.

Coach Brian Orser met Hanyu as he left the ice after his strong but slightly flawed performance. Then Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist who also coaches Fernandez, rushed back to behind the sideboards to help encourage the Spaniard.

Fernandez couldn’t match Hanyu.

(L-R) Japan’s silver medallist Shoma Uno, Japan’s gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu, and Spain’s bronze medallist Javier Fernandez pose on the podium during the medal ceremony for the figure skating Men’s singles event at the Pyeongchang Medals Plaza during the Pyeongchang 2018 Winter Olympic Games in Pyeongchang, on February 17, 2018. (AFP PHOTO / JAVIER SORIANO)

Hanyu later congratulated Fernandez and told him he wished both of them could have won.

“I told him, ‘Yes, Yuzu, but only one can be champion. Only one can have the gold medal,'” Fernandez said.

Uno moved from third Friday to second, loading a high-scoring quad and three triples into the final minute of his routine.

“I knew which level of performance I performed,” he said through a translator. “I did what I intended to do.”

American Nathan Chen surged from a fiasco of a short program, when he was 17th, by winning the free skate to wind up fifth. He did it with an historic routine featuring six quads.

As always, Hanyu skated to raucous support from the crowd , with thousands of Japanese flags filling the stands. He was terrific, though not perfect, particularly messing up a combination jump.

As always, he left the ice to a swarm of cascading Winnie The Pooh dolls flooding the ice.

Uno might have won the gold if not for his magnificent countryman. His energy throughout, particularly in the back end of his routine to “Turandot,” permeated the arena, and he pumped his arms wildly when he finished.

Fernandez, skating to “Man of La Mancha,” was a worthy medalist, finishing just 1.66 points behind Uno.

“It means a lot for my country,” Fernandez said. “We’ve never had a figure skating Olympic medal. We have such few Winter Olympic medals in any sports, so I hope it means a lot to everyone back home.”

The 18-year-old Chen had succumbed to the pressure and massive expectations in the short program, a day earlier. On Saturday, he nailed virtually every element. He even did the sixth quad, a loop, getting full credit for the four rotations though he put his hands down on the ice on it.

“I think after having such a disastrous short program and being so, so low in the ranking — lower than I usually ever am — it allowed me to completely forget the results and focus on enjoying myself out on the ice,” Chen said, “and getting rid of expectations helped a lot.”

He led all three US skaters into the top 10 as his 127.64 points for technical virtuosity put him in another stratosphere, and his 215.08 points for the free skate were a personal high.

Chen’s 17-year-old teammate Vincent Zhou, put down five quads — as if to say, “Hey buddy, I can do this, too” — in another spectacular jumping show. Zhou also soared in the standings, winding up sixth.

“It’s been such a wild ride over my short 17 years,” Zhou said. “I’ve been through so much, it would take me hours to say it all. But to skate like that, to have a successful performance means so much to me.”

Adam Rippon doesn’t do quads, but his presentation and dramatic flair earn him points. The 28-year-old dropped from seventh to 10th, but these were successful games for him, and his arm pumps to bolster the audience’s cheers when he was done lent a comical touch.

“They usually say that like, after the Olympic Games, somebody’s life changes forever,” Rippon said. “A lot of times it’s the gold medalist, but I have a feeling that my life has changed forever.”

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