South Korean figure skating star Cha Jun-hwan broke his personal best score in the short program at the PyeongChang Winter Olympics on Friday, becoming the first South Korean man to capture a ticket to free skating in 20 years.
The 16-year-old gained a personal high of 83.43 points to place 15th in the men’s singles figure skating short program held in Gangneung Ice Arena. His previous best was 82.34 set at the 2017 Junior World Championships.
It is also 5.73 points higher than the 77.70 he earned in the team event held last week.
Out of 30 skaters competing, only the top 24 are given a chance to exhibit their free program Saturday.
|South Korea’s Cha Jun-hwan skates his short program in the men’s figure skating event of the PyeongChang Winter Olympics in Gangneung Ice Arena on Feb. 16, 2018. (Yonhap)|
Cha is the first South Korean male skater to compete at the Winter Olympics since Salt Lake City 2002 and also the first South Korean man to skate in the free program at the Olympics since Nagano 1998, when Lee Kyu-hyun finished 24th.
Defending Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu from Japan took the lead with 111.68 points after nailing two clean quad jumps, including a quadruple-triple combination jump, which gave him 18.63 points.
He moved one step closer to becoming the first male skater to win back-to-back Olympic gold since American Dick Button in 1952.
Spaniard Javier Fernandez, the current European champion, was just 4.1 points behind Hanyu. He is now aiming to become the first athlete from his country to win an Olympic medal on ice at PyeongChang 2018.
Japanese Shoma Uno, who finished first in the short program of the men’s singles team event last week, received 104.17 points to rank third, while Chinese Jin Boyang, the winner of the Four Continents Championships last month, came in fourth with 103.32.
Two-time US Champion Nathan Chen, one of the strongest gold medal hopefuls, was way back in 17th with 82.27 points due to a series of mistakes on jumps.
Cha, the youngest men’s singles skater at PyeongChang, started skating 14th in the third group, with a program that doesn’t include a quad. But he landed three triple jumps and executed flawless spins and steps throughout the 2:40-long program.
“All my jumps were not stable from the beginning, so I didn’t expect high scores,” he said afterward. “But I did my best and enjoyed it. I’m very pleased with today’s results.”
He vowed to show a much better free program Saturday though he is still struggling with the flu.
“Because of the cold, my stamina went down. So I’m worried about the free program tomorrow,” he said. “But I’ll spring to my feet even though I fall on the ice. Keep watching me.”
Meanwhile, Kazak Denis Ten, the bronze medalist at Sochi 2014, had a disappointing 70.12 points in the short program as he seemed to have not fully recovered from a ligament injury. He missed a quadruple salchow in the beginning and blew a change-foot combination spin.
But he thanked South Korean fans for giving him warm support during his performance. He has a huge following in the country because he is a great-great-grandson of a Korean-born independence fighter, Min Keung-ho.
“It is a special place for me as lots of fans and supporters are here and a part of my family is here,” he said. “It’s a great honor not only to perform but also to come back to Korea for this great occasion, and I’m happy to be here.”