SOCHI, Russia (Reuters) - In an evening littered with spills, slips and stumbles, just staying upright was enough to put Denis Ten of Kazakhstan on the podium in a first for the Central Asian state in figure skating at the Winter Olympics.
Ten was in ninth place going into the men’s long program on Friday. He skated breezily, warmly cheered by the Russian audience, and as the night wore on, watched all the leading skaters fumble behind him in the scores.
In a surprise finish, Ten won bronze, behind Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu with gold and Canada’s Patrick Chan with silver.
“Denis skated a very good program and as the night kept going on it became hard to compare to it,” laughed his coach Frank Carroll, who has guided a slew of champions including Amercican Evan Lysacek to gold in Vancouver.
In fact, Ten is earning somewhat of a reputation for delivering clean performances as the sport’s leading lights crumble under pressure.
In a similarly error-strewn evening at last year’s world championship, the little-known Kazakh skater had again provided the evening’s shining moment to take silver behind Chan.
Before that he had never finished better than seventh at a world championships or Olympics.
“Today what happened is a very big accomplishment winning the first medal for my country. This is a gift to my compatriots and to my country,” Ten told reporters.
The road to the Olympics has not been an easy one for the 20-year-old this year, as he struggled with back troubles and injured feet that made most pairs of skates unbearable to wear.
“When he puts on skates, it’s like groan,” said Carroll.
Out of six pairs of new skates he tried on, only two unmatched boots fit - those are the ones he wore to make history in Sochi.
“My story deserves a TV show,” Ten said earlier this week. “It’s actually kind of funny. When I hear it, it doesn’t sound real. I just had one problem after another.”
Reporting by Alissa de Carbonnel; Editing by Ian Ransom