by Klaus Reinhold Kany
(24 March 2019) The men’s free program was the last highlight of the 2019 World Championships in Saitama. The general level was relatively good. Several top skaters did most of what they had planned. But there were also some competitors even among the best who made several serious mistakes.
Nathan Chen, World Champion in 2018, did not only defend his title, but won with a difference of almost 23 points and collected 323.42 points. In a big fight with Japan’s superstar Yuzuru Hanyu he had by far cleaner elements and even in components Chen could almost cope with the Japanese. Skating to the gloomy “Land of All“ by Woodkid, he began with an excellent quad Lutz which brought him 16.26 points and which Hanyu did not even try. His quad flip was a bit shaky, his first quad toe loop very good and his second quad toe loop in combination with a triple toe loop outstanding. The triple Axel had mainly GOEs of +4, like the other four triple jumps. His spins and steps had some GOEs of +5 and his components had an average of 9.5, with one 10.0 for performance from the Slovenian judge.
He commented, “It is an amazing feeling to be up here with these two guys. I am so proud of the U.S. We are having two medalists now. The competition was awesome. It is always a great pleasure to be able to compete in Japan in front of such a loud crowd. I am ultimately happy with how it worked. I want to have more experiences like this. It is a huge honor to be at this event with Yuzuru in Japan. I was fully expecting him to bring the house down and bring everyone to their feet, and have this crazy atmosphere. Ultimately, I am doing this sport because I want to represent U.S. at the 2022 Games. I think if anyone is going to do the quad Axel, it is going to be this guy (Hanyu). I am not thinking about a quad Axel anytime soon.“
Yuzuru Hanyu won the silver medal with 300.97 points. He used "Art on Ice“ by violinist Edvin Marton as a tribute to Evgeni Plushenko which was one of his two main idols (the other one being Johnny Weir). His first element was a relatively good quad loop, followed by an unter-rotated quad Salchow. This first quad toe loop was excellent, then he added a sequence of quad toe loop and triple Axel which was very good. Five other triple jumps were at least good, but not outstanding. His spins and step sequences were stellar as usual, he seem to fly over the ice. His components were around 9.6, with two 10.0 from the French and Swiss judges. After his performance the spectators threw many hundreds of yellow Poohs on the ice, and the flower girls needed some minutes to collect them.
“The Championship was held in Japan,“ he explained, “and a lot of supporters came to watch and cheer for me. I am disappointed gaining only silver, but I am thankful that I have got a chance to compete with such distinguished athletes and got a motivation to get stronger from them. I am pleased that I landed the quadruple loop, but when I think back about it, I feel that I could have performed it better. I still do not have a plan for the coming season, and I will check the condition of my ankle first before thinking of it. I have won the Olympics two times in the past, and I think that the Olympics itself is an amazing event. When I got injured and started my practice after it, I first started skating without using painkillers. I kept on using none of them until I started to practice the triple Axel. I feel that now I should be more careful with my ankle. Of course, I want to land a quadruple Axel.“
The bronze medal for Vincent Zhou of Colorado Springs, winning 281.16 points, was a positive surprise for U.S. Figure Skating. He performed two excellent quads (Lutz and Salchow) and a toe loop which was under-rotated. Four triple jumps were very good and the flip under-rotated. His style has improved considerably during this season thanks to working with the choreographers Lori Nichol, Jeffrey Buttle and others. His components were around 8.7. “This is the best result I could possibly hope for, and to share the podium with Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu is unbelievable. I admire these guys so much. To be able to compete and perform here in Japan was such an honor. Everyone here has been so kind and so supportive. It has been the first time since 1996 since two Americans have been on a podium.“
The second Japanese skater Shoma Uno finished on fourth position with 270.32 points. He stepped out of the quad Salchow and also of the quad flip, both of which were under-rotated. The first quad toe loop was very good, but the second one so shaky that he could not add a second jump for a combination. The rest of the program was excellent, but it was not enough to win a medal and he was disappointed afterwards.
Boyang Jin from China finished on fifth position with 262.71 points after landing a good quad Lutz, but two shaky quad toe loops. His style was not a good as the style of the top four skaters. Mikhail Kolyada from Russia moved up from tenth to sixth place, winning 262.44 points. His combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop was excellent, but he stepped out of the second quad toe loop. Four triple jumps were very good but the flip got an edge call. Matteo Rizzo from Italy fell on the quad toe loop, but landed eight clean triple jumps and finished seventh with 257.66 points. Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, who trains with Rafael Arutunian, sits eighth, earning 254.28 points. A quad Salchow and five triple jumps were very good, but he fell on the triple flip near the end.
Jason Brown dropped from the second place in the short program to ninth position with 254.15 points. He fell on the quad Salchow which was downgraded. The first triple Axel was not clean and he popped the second one. Spins and steps were excellent, but it was not his day. Andrei Lazukin from Russia, who came as a last minute alternate, is tenth with 248.74 points.