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Japanese star Hanyu dazzles with creative figure skating routine

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SOCHI, Russia — Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu made figure skating history, and now can chase even more of it.

He’ll do so without having to fend off a challenge from another record-setter, Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko.

Hanyu became the first figure skater to break the 100-point mark with a spectacular performance in the men’s short program on Thursday night at the Sochi Games. He earned 101.45 points with a playful, almost seductive routine in which he seemed to flow above the ice.

“I was so surprised with my score,” Hanyu said. “I didn’t know I got over 100.”

He shouldn’t have been, considering the speed, sharpness, entertainment value and total conviction of his skating. The stunned 19-year-old also won the men’s short program in the team event.

While Hanyu was soaring to a nearly 4-point lead over three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, Plushenko finished his stellar career with another injury.

The only figure skater in the modern era to win medals in four games, including gold in the new team event last weekend, Plushenko hurt his back in training Wednesday. He gave it a go in warmups before Thursday’s short program, but after falling on a triple axel, he knew he was done.

“I said to myself, `Evgeni, you must skate. It’s two more days, short and long program,”’ the 31-year-old and 2006 Olympic gold medalist said.

But he could not.

“I think it’s God saying, `Evgeni, enough, enough with skating,”’ added Plushenko, who said he’s had 12 surgeries.

No man from an Asian nation or Canada has even won Olympic gold in figure skating. Chan, who was fifth in Vancouver, put on his best Olympic routine to stay within sight of Hanyu.

“Four points in singles men’s is not much,” Chan said. “I like being in second. I like being in the chase. It’s exciting to me.”

Javier Fernandez of Spain, a country that’s never won an Olympic figure skating medal, was third with 86.98.

Hanyu and Fernandez are coached by Brian Orser, who guided South Korea’s Yuna Kim to women’s gold in Vancouver. Because they skated consecutively, Orser had to scramble to change from a gray blazer to a Spain team jacket, but first he sprinted over to congratulate his Japanese student.

American Jason Brown put on the performance his young skating career to finish sixth. He’s within the width of a skate blade of third heading into Friday’s free skate.

“All year in this program, in every competition I have gone to, I have gotten a personal best,” the 19-year-old Brown said. “I didn’t want to stop in the Olympics.”

Brown will be the final skater Friday night. Fernandez leads off the last group of six, with Takahashi second, Hanyu third and Chan fourth. Peter Liebers of Germany is the other skater in the final group.

The night began with wild swings, from Plushenko falling in warmups to U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott crashing. Abbott stayed down for a lengthy period after his fall, and just when coach Yuka Sato was about to open the entry door to help him, he struggled to his feet and continued his program.

The four-time U.S. champ nailed every subsequent element to wind up 15th.



CROSS-COUNTRY SKIING

POLISH ATHLETE EARNS WIN

Justyna Kowalczyk of Poland, skiing with a fractured foot, won gold in the women’s cross-country 10-kilometer classical race, finishing in 28 minutes, 17.8 seconds and beating silver medalist Charlotte Kalla of Sweden by 18.4 seconds. Therese Johaug of Norway took bronze, 28.3 seconds behind.

SHORT TRACK

CHINA VICTORIOUS

Li Jianrou of China won gold in 500-meter short track speedskating after all three of her opponents in the final fell. Li’s win in the 500 keeps the Olympic title with China. Injured teammate Wang Meng couldn’t defend the title she has won at every Winter Games since 2002. Arianna Fontana of Italy took the silver and Park Seung-hi of South Korea earned the bronze. Elise Christie of Britain caused the first crash of the wild final and was disqualified.

SPEEDSKATING

HONG GETS UPSET VICTORY

In the women’s 1000-meter race, Zhang Hong pulled off a stunning victory to give China its first gold ever in Olympic speedskating. Her time of 1 minute, 14.02 seconds, broke the track record and just missed the Olympic mark set by Chris Witty at the 2002 Games. Ireen Wust took the silver and Margo Boer the bronze, giving the Dutch a dozen speedskating medals.

BIATHLON

FOURCADE TAKES 20K EVENT

Martin Fourcade of France earned his second gold of the Sochi Games with a victory in the men’s 20-kilometer individual race. Fourcade, who won the 12.5K pursuit on Monday, finished 12.2 seconds ahead of silver medalist Erik Lesser of Germany. Yevgeny Garanichev of Russia won the bronze.

ICE HOCKEY

HOST RUSSIA WINS

Russia topped Slovenia 5-2 in preliminary rounds of the men’s ice hockey competition, setting the stage for the two powers to battle on Saturday. Also, Canada defeated Norway 3-1 and Finland beat Austria 8-4. In the women’s tournament, Germany defeated Japan 4-0 and Russia beat Sweden 3-1.

CURLING

CANADA, SWEDEN CRUISING

Gold medal favorites Canada, Sweden and Britain posted wins in the men’s curling tournament, keeping the pressure on undefeated China, which had a bye Thursday.

In the women’s competition, Canada swept away its fifth straight opponent, while Sweden knocked Switzerland from the ranks of the undefeated. Britain revived its chances of making the semifinals with a win over China.

SKELETON

YARNOLD in POSITION

Lizzy Yarnold of Britain and Noelle Pinkus-Pace grabbed the top two spots midway through the women’s skeleton competition. The final two runs for the gold are today.

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