The men took to the ice in the evening session at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships in Boston, and the night belonged to Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu who decimated the competition, skating a program that could only be labelled a master class in contemporary figure skating. The reigning Olympic champion has set the bar high all season long, and tonight was no different. Though he was just shy of his world record short program score earned at the Grand Prix Final in December, he was arguably just as good.
“I was very nervous today, or rather the quality of this nervousness felt different from usual,” Hanyu said. “My mental state was all over the place, but the fact that I could pull my emotions together in the middle of all of this and put out a great performance on this biggest stage that is the World Championships, I think, is a good thing. I still have things I need to work on, such as the quad toe and the step sequence, and I would like to focus on improving for the free skate rather than thinking about next season.”
Hanyu showed a unique blend of technical and artistic mastery that earned the wunderkind a World Championship record score of 110.56 points. The leader has been pushed this season to up the technical ante in the short program, and he answered the call here by nailing two clean quadruple jumps (one in combination) to go with a triple Axel that earned plus three grades of execution from the entire panel. “As I said before, today I felt something different than usual,” he explained. “Even though it was at the Olympics that I was able to break the 100-point mark for the first time, and of course at I feel nervous at Nationals and the Grand Prix Final, today felt different, and I am very happy that I was able to put out a good performance despite these emotions.”
Far behind — 12 points, in fact, is reigning World champion Javier Fernández. The Spaniard tried to keep pace with the technical merit of his training mate Hanyu, but he fell on a quadruple Salchow attempt that all but eliminated his chance to take the top spot. Despite the error, Fernández performed with passion and flair in his “Malaguena” program, and was able to connect on a sharp quadruple toe-triple toe loop combination. Fernández earned 98.52 points for his efforts.
“There are so many good skaters in the competition and there are so many surprises. You never know what’s going to happen,” Fernández explained. “Every competition, every season is different. That’s why I think to get a world title for the second time sometimes is even more difficult. If you are World Champion one time and follow you life to get it again maybe that’s going to put you off in other ways. Honestly today when I was skating I didn’t remember I was defending or I had to defend my title. It was not in my mind. I felt great going into that jump, but on the landing I lost my balance. The program felt great. I tried not to give any points away in the steps and spins. Other than the mistake everything else was good. That’s why I got a big score even having a fall on the second quad. To do two quads in the short program is hard, there are more risks to make mistakes.”
In third place is another former World champion, Canada’s Patrick Chan, who is making his appearance at this competition after a two-year hiatus. Like Fernandez, Chan opened with a strong quadruple toe-triple toe loop combination, but in this case, the Achilles heal was a failed triple Axel. A debonair performer, Chan found a good match in choosing “Mack the Knife” as his short program music. His trademark edges and steps were in full flight tonight, even if he was not able to put out a clean performance. Chan earned a season’s best 94.84 points.
“I felt happy getting off the ice and of course part of it is because I’m relieved. There’s a lot of pressure that I haven’t had in two seasons,” Chan said. “If I look at how I felt, mentally and physically, going into the (short) program from Skate Canada to now, I’m very happy with how much I’ve improved already, this year being a comeback year. To be in the top three is a huge achievement. I’m happy with the results and how I performed, despite the triple Axel. I look at the bigger picture. I can leave tomorrow and live a life that I will forever be happy with and extremely successful. Coming here and competing, and putting myself through this kind of stress and pressure, competing against the best, is a tough situation.
“So I have to find a reason why to do it. It’s the reason why the greats have a hard time leaving because they feel like they always have more to give. For me, giving more isn’t necessarily about the jumps but it’s about how the performance makes me feel. I’m here because the feeling and the sheer joy.”
Hanyu’s teammate, Shoma Uno, finished in fourth place in his debut performance at these championships. The 2015 Junior World champion doubled the back half of his triple flip combination, but landed a solo quadruple toe and nice triple Axel in his “Legends” program. Uno’s choreography, however, seemed light in comparison to the top three, and kept him from being in podium position heading into the free skate. He earned 90.74 points in his program.
“I am first of all not satisfied with my jumps, and secondly with the transitions,” Uno said. “I went into these World Championships as a way to test and show why I had practiced so hard, but I could not perform to my satisfaction. I am particularly disappointed that I made a mistake on the jump with the lowest degree of difficulty. But, the fact that I landed the other jumps is a positive thing.”
Quadruple king Boyang Jin of China struggled on his opening quadruple Lutz-triple tow loop combination, but was good enough for fifth place. Second at last year’s Junior World championships, Jin earned 89.86 points in the short program. The surprise of the evening was Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, who skated lights out early in the competition and finished in sixth place overall.
On the other end of the spectrum, however, is reigning bronze medalist Denis Ten, who finished all the way back in 12th place after a rough performance. But the disappointment of the evening might go to Canada’s Nam Nguyen, fifth a year ago, who will watch the free skate from the stands after landing in 27th place and failing to qualify.