For Canada’s three-time world champion, the result matched ’16. But with the veteran gaining confidence in his quads, this year’s finish doesn’t feel at all the same.
Patrick Chan heard the cheering.
It wasn’t for him.
From deep in the bowels of the Hartwall Arena, as he made his final mental preparations for the free skate competition, a great roar pierced through the ear buds Chan had screwed into his head.
That was the standing ovation for Yuzuru Hanyu, once and again men’s gold medallist at the World Figure Skating Championships.
The 22-year-old from Japan laid out a virtuoso performance, studded with four clean quad jumps, vaulting from fourth after the short program to top of the podium, unseating reigning title holding Spaniard Javier Fernandez who plummeted from first to fourth.
A domino effect up top in the standings, and the errors Chan committed, relegated the three-time world champion to a fifth-place finish. Though compatriot Kevin Reynolds unspooled arguably the best skate of his long competitive career, his ninth-place result, coupled with Chan’s fifth, renders the math crooked: 14 points combined, one over the mark that would have allowed Canadian to send three men to the Pyeongchang Olympics next February. Instead, just the two.
So double disappointment, from a Maple Leaf perspective.
Still, in significant ways that he can take forward into the Olympic season, this was quantifiably at or near the best that Chan has proffered on competitive ice since embarking on his comeback.
“In some ways. Yes and no.”
Not sure where to land on that question, following a free skate that featured three quads — a step-out on the third — scoring 193.39, and a final tally of 295.16.
“My goal coming in here was to rotate all three quads in the program which I hadn’t done yet.’’
His quad Salchow, added only this past season, was actually the most impressive and highest scoring of those three four-rotation offerings.
“It’s great to know that I have the confidence now to do it.’’
Which means the 26-year-old — now among the longest-in-the-tooth of elite male skaters — might have the assurance to include a second quad in his short program next year, as all the young guns of the sport are now doing, helping to close the gap on marks earning coming out of the first phase of competition.
To stay with the jumping trendsetters, Chan must aim for a sum total — short plus long — of five quads, while picking up all the component marks that are his strong suit: transitions, interpretation, skating skill, sheer quality.
At these Worlds, four of six men in the final flight of skaters reeled off four quads. Seventeen-year-old Nathan Chen, who came into this event with the hottest jumping hand — landing an unprecedented seven quads between the short and long in winning the U.S. title — went for six this morning but fell on two of them.
At these, his first worlds, Chen would have to settle for sixth, five points behind Chan.
“I planned this program because I’m a strong technical skater and that’s something that has been working for me this season,” Chen said. “I threw in that extra quad but it didn’t really play out how I wanted it to. This is the longest seasons that I’ve ever had and we’re here at worlds so it’s a good experience for me. I’ve learned a lot this week.”
What everyone has learned is never to count out Hanyu, the reigning Olympic gold medallist — his triumph in Sochi dropped Chan to bitter silver — who rose phoenix-like from fifth after the short with a magnificent effort of near-perfection in the long.
Hanyu, of course, trains at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club under Brian Orser. He and Chan have been bobbing and weaving for the past five years as rivals.
For Orser, it was a bittersweet championship as he watched his other star ward, Hernandez surrender his title, collapsing from a world-record short program score to an error-riddled sixth in the long.
One-two finish for Japan, with countryman Shoma Uno — another of the young hotshots — staking silver (214.45/319,31) with only a couple of small hitches in his routine. China’s Boyang Jin, likewise 19 years old, claimed bronze (204.94/303.58).
For Chan, fifth place was the same as at the ’16 Worlds. But they didn’t feel at all the same.
“Emotionally very different. I was very upset last year because I set myself up for failure, where I put a lot of pressure to prove something to other people, as opposed to proving to myself. Which was my approach today, to forget everything that’s going on around me, forget how Yuzu skated or anybody else before me and just put out what I can put out.’’
Adding: “Last year in Boston, I felt like I shouldn’t be there or I didn’t deserve to be in the last group of men.’’
While jumping mania, and expertise, has seized the younger generation, Chan says he will remain strategically prudent and realistic. So, likely no fourth quad added to his free skate next year.
“I would need to a little more number-crunching. The first step is … to do a (quad) toe and a (quad) Sal in the short. I’ll start with that.’’
Perhaps as soon as the World Team Trophy event in Tokyo in a couple of weeks.
But a fourth quad in the long? Whoa.
“I don’t know what happens if I had a fourth quad. I’m not like some of these guys who just roll out of bed and do it. I have to be a little more methodical. I need to be smart. I can’t let myself get carried away with what the other guys are doing and conform myself to their style, if that makes sense.’’
While teammate Reynolds was not among the elite six in the final flight, he certainly matched that group quad-for-quad, always his forte: four of them, cleanly rendered. At the end of his program, the 26-year-old pumped his fist and screeched exultantly.
“Was it audible?” he asked later. “It was exhilaration.’’
He moved up three spots.
“I had an important job here, to try and qualify three spots for Canada. I’m very happy that I was able to leave two of my best performances of my career on the ice here this week.”