ADLER, Russia -- Yeesh. What's a guy have to do around here in order to lose a figure skating gold medal?

Apparently, he has to fall down more than twice.

Yuzuru Hanyu, a lithe and talented Japanese teenager who entered Friday night's long program in first place, performed his routine to the tune of a Beatles medley. And he went a little Helter-Skelter early on.

Hanyu landed two of his first three jumps, awkwardly.

Well, not just awkwardly. Badly. He wound up on the wrong side of his spangles, if you know what we mean.

And yet.

Hanyu, after skating cleanly the rest of the way, still won gold. Why? Because the only man with a practical chance to beat him, three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada, skated even worse. The only question was whether the judges would grade down his mistakes more than they graded down Hanyu's errors. They did.

"I had that gold medal around my neck," Chan said later. "And I didn't grasp it."

Chan did not execute a full plop. But he did slip and catch himself by putting both hands on the ice. This is not a required element of the long program. Chan also wobbled on one landing and was generally out of synch.

And yet.

Chan, for all of that, still won the silver medal -- because so many others behind him skated even worse. Slips, missteps, ugly body language. This night had it all.

"We've all had bad days in our careers," Chan said. "We all seemed to have our problems today. We all made mistakes. Maybe it's the pressure of the Olympic Games."

Many times, of course, it works just the opposite. The pressure of the Games brings out the best qualities of competitors, not their sloppiest.

Likewise, the men's figure skating finals are usually a highlight of the Games, full of athleticism and flash and drama. But this time, the major flash occurred a night earlier in a sad way, when Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko withdrew because of a bad back. It sapped some big energy and sexiness out of the event.

And what about the good old USA? Well, if only six other skaters had pulled a Plushenko and eliminated themselves, an American would have actually won a medal. Instead, we saw the United States' worst night in this event since 1936, with Jason Brown ending up ninth and Jeremy Abbott finishing 12th.

As a bonus, Abbott went on a rant in the mixed zone area afterward when someone mentioned that, as a four-time national champion, there was a perception he tends to choke in bigger events on the world stage. In response, Abbott snapped.

"I just want to put my middle finger in the air and say a big 'F-you' to everyone who has ever said that to me," Abbott seethed, "because they've never stood in my shoes, and they've never had to do what I've had to do."

All right, let's take back that part about the lack of drama. It was just profane and weird drama.

For instance? Friday's surprise bronze medal winner was Dennis Ten of Kazakhstan, who skated almost two hours earlier than Hanyu and Chan in the final group. Ten figured he was out of the medal picture, so he took off his outfit and went to the gym beneath the stands to pedal a stationary bike and work out his frustrations.

"I tried not to think about it," Ten said. "But then somebody came into the gym and told me, 'You might have to put your outfit back on -- you might have to go to the podium.' "

As man after man botched up, Ten moved closer and closer to that podium. And at the end of the evening, he was right there.

Hanyu sounded a little ashamed to be on the top step of that podium.

"I fell after my first jump and then my third jump," he said though an interpreter. "So I thought the gold was in my hands. My legs felt heavy. As the program went on, negative feelings were brewing inside my head, and I started to tire. But I was still able to finish the event."

And as things turned out, there was a sweet back story to his victory. Hanyu is from Sendai, Japan, where the earthquake and tsunami of 2011 hit the fiercest. His practice rink was destroyed. But the people of Sendai, with all their troubles, still helped him raise enough money to relocate to Toronto and train for these Games.

"I don't think I'm here spiritually all by myself," Hanyu said after his victory. "I am here because of all the people who supported me. I was able to return a favor, if you want to put it that way. The medal itself can't assist with the recovery. But now that I've won it, perhaps there is something I can do, going forward from today."

Upon hearing that . . . well, perhaps the competition Friday was the best of two falls. But it became clear that the right man won the gold.

Contact Mark Purdy at mpurdy@mercurynews.com. Follow him at Twitter.com/MercPurdy.