Men Rock the World Stage in Saitama

Tatsuki Machida

In Japan, figure skaters are rock stars. If there was ever any doubt about that, it was dispelled by the reception the competitors in the men's short program received tonight at the Saitama Super Arena. In particular, the acclaim that greeted the three Japanese men before and after they skated was more akin to a pop concert than a skating competition. The largely female crowd screamed their heads off and flung their flowers and gifts to the ice with wild abandon.

The night belonged to Tatsuki Machida who performed to "East of Eden" which previously was most notably used by Michelle Kwan. Machida may have matched Kwan at her spine-tingling best with his rendition that was technically flawless and included a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination, a triple Axel and a triple Lutz. A flying sit spin and his step sequence were both graded Level 4 and he improved his personal best by a massive seven points to score 98.21.

Javier Fernández skated his best competitive short program of the season one competition too late, but he was satisfied with a personal best of 96.42 points and second place, which puts him within striking distance of Machida going into the free. The two-time European champion's "Satan Takes a Holiday" routine included a quaduple Salchow, a triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. In addition, Fernández was awarded Level 4 for all of his non-jump elements.

The expectation from the home crowd is sure to have weighed heavily on Yuzuru Hanyu's slender shoulders and he crashed to the ice on his opening quadruple toe loop in his "Parisienne Walkways" short. The Olympic champion fought back to nail the rest of his planned content without error to score a more than respectable 91.24 points.

Tomáš Verner, Han Yan and Takahiko Kozuka all had clean performances and will fill out the final flight for the free. Verner is retiring after this competition while Yan is just embarking on what promises to be a great career.

It is mind-blowing to think that Takahiko Kozuka was a reserve for these Championships. It once again shows the depth of the Japanese men's skating program.

Michal Březina placed 23rd in the short and subsequently withdrew due to injury. Březina twisted his right ankle on the take-off of a planned triple flip. He received medical attention after his performance.

“I pulled a ligament and I can’t even put my full weight on the foot. It won’t heal in two days. I could try to push through it, but I might make it worse,” Březina said.