“I had a little wobble at the beginning of the program, Han said. “I don't know what I was thinking.
“In the crossover into the triple toe I had to pick up speed and unfortunately I wasn't able to get the triple toe perfectly out there. But then I was able to fight through and do a triple loop and tack a combination on there. So I was happy that I could think as I was going.”
Rising to the pressure of the occasion seemed a breeze for the 18-year-old who is based in Redding in the USA.
“I wasn't really all that nervous,” she said. “I was confident in my training and I had trust in myself. I kind of took it in my stride. The cameras following me everywhere, I have never really had that before. I kind of expected that but I had never experienced it before so that was a bit different.”
Han executed all of her other elements smoothly and was rewarded with a score of 49.32 from the judges, putting her in sixth place. With only the top-24 progressing through to free program, Han had done enough to secure a finals berth.
“The free skate has been going really well in training,” she said. “It's a program that I really enjoy performing and I was really hoping I would get a chance to perform it here so I am excited to go out and skate it tomorrow for everyone and hope that I can skate it like I have been in practice the last few months.”
Despite the errors, Han admitted that her performance was a dream come true.
“It was definitely a once in a lifetime experience - you only get to make your Olympic debut once,” she said.
“It was something that I had dreamed of my whole life. Unfortunately it didn't go exactly how it does in my dreams but it was a good performance so I am happy with that.”
Korea’s darling of figure skating, 23-year-old Yuna Kim, skated in the third group of the night, and delivered her trademark flawless technical execution. The defending Olympic Champion and World Champion, delivered a stunning performance to the sounds of Send in the Clowns, earning 74.92 for her program. Although the score was not as high as her personal best set in Vancouver four years ago, it put her more than comfortably in first place with the second half of the field still to skate.
"In warm-up, I was very nervous, I couldn't jump at all,” Kim said. “But I tried to believe in myself and believed in what I've done before. I always get nervous before competition. I don't feel pressure. I was just nervous."
Gracie Gold of the USA was the best in the following group of skaters, earning 68.63 for her performance which brought her up to second place. Gold looked nervous in her short program but was technically solid and will remain a chance for a podium finish if she can lift in her free program.
The fifth and final group of the night got off to a roaring start, with 15-year-old Yulia Lipnitskaya the first to skate. The baby-faced Russian star, who already has a gold medal from the Team event, had huge crowd support but felt the pressure of the occasion with some shaky elements and then a fall on her triple flip. Despite this, the judges awarded her strongly for composition and interpretation, putting her on 65.23 points.
Italy’s Carolina Kostner put out a clean and elegant skate in her performance to Ave Maria and was strongly rewarded with a season’s best score of 74.12. The score was the second best of the night at that point, and had the 27-year-old sitting just a fraction of a point behind Kim.
The home crowd quickly got a new favourite with Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova giving the performance of her life for a huge season’s best score of 74.64. The score rocketed her into second position with just one skater left on the bill – hot medal favourite Mao Asada of Japan.
Asada provided the biggest shock of the night, under-rotating on her triple axel and falling heavily to the ice for a three-point deduction. The 2010 Olympic silver medallist struggled to regain her composure, making a further mistake on her triple loop/double loop. Despite still showing her graceful lines throughout her program, the mistakes cost Asada heavily, earning just 55.51 from the judges, to leave her in 16th position.
Kim heads into the free program in the lead on 74.92 and will be challenged for the medals by Sotnikova (74.64) and Kostner (74.12), as well as the two American skaters Gold and Wagner and Lipnitskaya.
Han finished in 22nd and will be looking for a personal best in her free program to climb the final rankings.
Competition continues at 7pm local time on Thursday 20 February.
Alice Wheeler | sochi2014.olympics.com.au