Friday night at the Saitama Super Arena and once more there was a packed house from the first flight. Everyone wanted to see whether Yuzuru Hanyu, Japan's first male Olympic figure skating champion, could take his first World title, or if the overnight leader Tatsuki Machida would hold on to his lead from the short. It was going to be close no matter what, but no one expected just how close it would be in the end.
Machida was the first of the two to skate and he laid down the gauntlet in his "Firebird" free with two quadruple toe loops, two triple Axels and five other triple jumps to record career best scores of 184.05 points for the free and 282.26 in total. The audience was delirious when he finished and it was going to take an almighty effort to beat what he had accomplished.
The "Romeo and Juliet" free did not go well for Hanyu in Sochi, but it was not a tragic story at all in Saitama. The Olympic champion showed he meant business from the outset. Though the opening quad Salchow was a bit iffy, he landed it and his subsequent quad toe loop was solid as were the two triple Axels and six other triples in the routine. Hanyu earned 191.35 and scored 282.59 points overall. But would it be enough to overtake Machida?
It was by a mere 0.33 of a point.
Coach Brian Orser had another student land on the podium in the form of Javier Fernández who claimed the bronze. The Japanese crowd really got into the playful mood of Fernández's "Peter Gunn" program and helped propel him to a more than respectable score of 179.51 points. His total of 275.93 points was a new career best.
The Spaniard was the only man to attempt three quads in the free. The first quad Salchow had an overturn on the landing, but the other two were clean.
Earlier on, young Nam Nguyen had rocked the house with a clean free. The World Junior champion moved up from 16th after the short to finish in 12th at his senior debut. And guess who his coach is? Brian Orser.
Watch this space for 2018.