SOCHI, Russia – Gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu fell twice and still won. Runner-up Patrick Chan was the three-time reigning world champion and messed up three times. And Denis Ten from Kazakhstan did everything perfectly but only came in third place.
Such are the peculiarities of elite-level men's figure skating, with its unintelligible scoring system and complex formula for determining who is the best of the best.
More than anything, Friday night's long program will be remembered not for its flips and spins and tricks or even Hanyu's blinding rhinestone costume, but for the thrills and spills.
Man after man tumbled to the floor at the Iceberg Skating Palace, trying – but in many cases failing – to execute the devilishly difficult maneuvers deemed necessary to accomplish the ultimate prize in this graceful yet punishing sport.
It was all in stark contrast to four years ago, when American Evan Lysacek skated off with the gold medal in Vancouver amid taunts that he had played it safe by leaving out the green-headed monster of figure skating, the quad jump, from his routine.
That wasn't the case here. Most of the 24 skaters attempted at least one quad, and plenty of them came unstuck with varying degrees of combustion.
This is a sport that is sensitive to public perception. Following the uproar in 2010 when Russia's Evgeni Plushenko landed the quad but still had to settle for a silver medal, judges have consistently offered greater rewards for those who nail a quad but given minimal punishment for those who fail.
Which makes it worth trying, even for skaters with a low chance of connecting. Ten of Kazakhstan was sitting in ninth after a poor short program but leapfrogged all the way to the podium on the back of his excellent quad.
The jump, which obviously features four rotations, is the ultimate risk versus reward, which makes it exciting in itself. France's Florent Amodio was so frustrated at missing two of them that he cried all the way from the ice to the interview zone afterward. "I am an emotional guy," he said. Not surprising, if he has to try those darn quads in practice every day.
Friday night's result might raise the argument about what is better for skating as a spectacle. Do people want to see the champion skate a slightly easier but perfectly clean routine? Or are they willing to accept imperfection from the best in order to push the sport's technical boundaries? The issue wasn't answered here, and we will see how figure skating evolves between now and Pyeongchang in four years' time.
In truth, Hanyu was a deserving winner. His technical and athletic skills are at a groundbreaking level, and his program's level of difficulty was off the charts.
By stumbling on two jumps, he opened the door for Chan, who had talked big a day earlier by suggesting his Japanese rival might buckle under the pressure.
"When I fell, I thought the gold medal could be gone," Hanyu said.
Instead, it was Chan who could not deliver when presented with the opportunity to end Canada's drought in the men's event. From Kurt Browning to Elvis Stojko to Brian Orser and now Chan, Canadian men have won the world title 14 times but never gone on to capture Olympic gold.
Chan looked happy at the end of the routine, but the smile was wry and he must have known it was over. Crazy things have happened in Olympic judging, but this would have been a robbery of epic proportions, and, sure enough, Hanyu was given the gold.
"Today was a tough day," Chan said. "We all had tough skates."
Jason Brown of the United States was the last skater of the night, with his popular "Riverdance" routine that created such a splash at the U.S. Championships. He had a lower level of difficulty than the rest of the final group and still made a couple of errors, pushing him down to ninth place.
Jeremy Abbott made a brave comeback after his spectacular crash in the short program, rebounding to end up in 12th before issuing a withering response to his critics. But it was a night for Hanyu, a growing superstar who could be around for years to come, and for those sneaky souls who enjoy some thrills and spills on the ice.