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Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu roars to Worlds lead amid pressure of rising expectations

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Yuzuru Hanyu feels the expectations, rising with every world-record performance. He stepped on the TD Garden ice with an unfamiliar nervousness as thousands cheered in anticipation on Wednesday night.

Many Japanese fans flew more than 6,000 miles to Boston for the World Championships this week, most of all to watch Hanyu perform for not even eight minutes over two programs.

But he’s used to that, having swept the Olympic and World titles in 2014 and shattered short program, free skate and total scores at his last two international competitions.

“I was pretty nervous today, and just the quality of the nervousness was a little bit different from usual,” Hanyu said through a translator afterward. “It’s hard to explain, but I felt a little unsettling in my mind.”

Hanyu’s first task was Wednesday’s short program, jumping, stepping and spinning to Chopin for just under three minutes.

He appeared calm and cocooned as he skated towards center ice, seconds before his turn as the penultimate competitor among a group of 30.

“When I was skating the short program, I was kind of released from that feeling,” Hanyu said of the nervousness, “and I just skated.”

Nearly to perfection.

Hanyu nailed all of his jumps, unlike his two main rivals, including two quads and tallied the second-highest short-program score under a judging system that debuted in 2005.

He roared twice before gliding off the ice, carefully avoiding Winnie the Pooh bears tossed by adoring fans. They’ve been a staple since before he became the world’s best skater at age 19 two years ago.

“The reason that I was so emotional at the end today was because I felt kind of different,” said Hanyu, attributing the nervousness at least partly to obstacles faced in pre-Worlds training, including a poor practice Tuesday. “With that circumstance, I was still able to pull out the good performance. That’s why I showed my emotion so strongly.”

The scoreboard read 110.56, just off the record 110.95 set at his last international competition in December.

Hanyu goes into Friday’s free skate (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra) with the largest short-program lead for any skater in any discipline at a Worlds or Olympics — a whopping 12.04 points.

“I do feel the expectation of my standard has been rising, and I do feel the pressure, actually, but it doesn’t really affect my performance,” Hanyu said. “I want to really enjoy my skating, and I think I was able to show that today.”

Neither 2015 World champion Javier Fernandez nor three-time World champion Patrick Chan can say they showed their best Wednesday. Both men fell on jumps and are second and third, respectively, going into the free skate.

Fernandez, who erased Hanyu’s comparatively paltry short-program lead of 2.46 points to win Spain’s first World title a year ago, added a second quadruple jump to his short program earlier this season.

He needed it to continue challenging Hanyu, his training partner under 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser in Toronto.

But Fernandez couldn’t land it, slamming his right arm and then the rest of his body on the ice on a Salchow.

“When we decided to put two quads, we knew it was more risk,” Fernandez said. “Hopefully in the free program I can keep myself more concentrated, I don’t do any more mistakes, because Yuzu is already like 10 points away.”

Chan, the last man to beat Hanyu in November, fell on a triple Axel at his first Worlds since he three-peated in 2013. The Canadian took more than 18 months off from competition after grabbing silver behind Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics.

He called his third-place standing Wednesday a success.

“There’s a lot of pressure that I haven’t been familiar with for two seasons,” Chan said. “I’m very happy with how much I’ve improved already this year, being a comeback year.”

The U.S. men are out of the medal picture, as expected. U.S. champion Adam Rippon skated clean but didn’t attempt a quad. It showed in his score, an 85.72 for seventh place.

The 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron did attempt a quad but put a hand down and slotted in 4.44 behind Rippon in eighth place. Worlds rookie Grant Hochstein fell on his lone quad and is 16th.

Rippon and Aaron must make a net gain of two places in the free skate for the U.S. to keep three men for the 2017 World Championships.

As for Hanyu, the numbers to watch are 219.48 and 330.43, his world-record free skate and total scores set in December. They are not at the front of his mind.

“I am not thinking of setting new records,” he said.

WORLDS PREVIEWS: Men | WomenPairsIce Dance | Broadcast Schedule

Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 110.56
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 98.52
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 94.84
7. Adam Rippon (USA) — 85.72
8. Max Aaron (USA) — 81.28
16. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 74.81

U.S. men’s results at Worlds likely to impact 2018 Olympics

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BOSTON — If two of the three U.S. men’s skaters at this week’s World Championships struggle, it could have a domino effect into the Pyeongchang 2018 Olympics.

That’s because nations’ finishes at every year’s Worlds determine entry numbers for the next year’s Worlds. And at next year’s Worlds, Olympic entry numbers are likely to be determined, though the International Skating Union hasn’t officially announced qualifying procedures yet.

The two best finishes of the three U.S. men competing this week must add up to 13 or fewer (fifth and eighth, for example) to keep three U.S. men’s spots for the 2017 Worlds.

Three spots over two at the 2017 Worlds will be key for the Olympics, because it allows the U.S. to throw away its weakest finish at 2017 Worlds for Olympic qualifying purposes. If the U.S. has only two skaters entered, there is no margin for error.

Take the last Olympic cycle for example.

In 2013, Aaron finished a respectable seventh in his Worlds debut, but veteran teammate Ross Miner was 14th. Their combined total — 21 — kept the U.S. at two men’s skaters for the Sochi Winter Games, its first time at fewer than the maximum of three since 1998.

“I was hoping and I had a feeling that Ross was going to show up because he had been there before, that he was going to lead the way, and I was going to go out there and throw everything I’ve got at it,” Aaron recalled Monday. “Unfortunately, Ross had a rough skate.”

If the U.S. had a third skater at the 2013 Worlds, it could have thrown away Miner’s 14th place and potentially secured three spots for Sochi.

It didn’t, and Aaron was left in the worst position in January 2014, missing the Olympic team by finishing third at the U.S. Championships.

This week, one of the U.S. trio of Rippon, Aaron and Worlds rookie Grant Hochstein could struggle and have his result thrown away.

Even with that cushion, reaching that 13 number will be a challenge. The field includes the top five skaters from the Grand Prix season, none of which are Americans. If everyone skates their best, sixth or seventh places might be the best the Americans can hope for.

The best previous Worlds finish by Aaron or Rippon was Rippon’s sixth in 2010.

“If I could predict the future, I would tell you what’s going to happen,” Aaron said. “Adam, with his [U.S.] champion status right now, hopefully can lead the way. … If I can bring out the quads [jumps], we’ll see.”

WORLDS PREVIEWS: Men | WomenPairsIce Dance | Broadcast Schedule

Nathan Chen lands four quads, but Adam Rippon wins U.S. title

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Nathan Chen, 16, became the first man to land four quadruple jumps in a free skate at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, but Adam Rippon took his first national title in St. Paul, Minn., on Sunday.

Rippon, 26, fell on his lone quadruple jump attempt (a Lutz, the hardest quad being tried) over two programs, but he was strong enough with the rest of his components to total 270.75 points. Rippon edged short-program leader Max Aaron by 1.2 points for the title.

“My coach is going to drill me into the ground so that I will have the best quads of my life by the time we get to Boston,” Rippon said.

Rippon, in nervous tears hours before the competition and crying again after he saw his score, defended being the second straight U.S. champion without landing a quad.

He leads a three-man team to the World Championships in Boston in two months, with Chen and Aaron, seeking to end a U.S. men’s medal drought since Evan Lysacek‘s World title in 2009.

“If everybody could skate exactly like [Japanese Olympic champion] Yuzuru [Hanyu], the competition would be boring,” said Rippon, who trains and shares a coach with Chen. “It’s not a jump competition. It’s not a choreography competition. It’s not a spin competition. It takes a little bit of everything.

“The talent in U.S. men’s skating is there for the future. Nathan’s doing four quads. Vincent Zhou [eighth place, 15 years old] is trying two. It’s there for the future, but right now, for the present, I wanted to show the best that I could do today.”

Chen posted 266.93 to become the youngest man to finish in the top three at the U.S. Championships since 1973. Rippon, Aaron and Chen were named as the World Championships team two hours after competition ended, setting Chen up to be the youngest U.S. man to compete at Worlds since 1965.

Chen fell on a triple Axel in the free skate, two days after he became the first man to land two quads in a short program at the U.S. Championships.

On Sunday, Chen landed two quadruple Salchows and two quadruple toe loops. He was in fourth place after Friday’s short program.

“I had initially planned to only do three [quads], but I felt fine,” Chen said, adding that he felt he had nothing to lose. “Throughout the season, I’ve only been putting myself up as a junior skater. I’m glad to show what I’m capable of as a senior skater.”

Later Sunday, Chen aggravated a hip injury during an exhibition performance and was taken to a local hospital, according to U.S. Figure Skating.

Rippon has questioned his place in the sport during an up-and-down last few years. He won the 2008 and 2009 World junior titles and was second at the 2012 U.S. Championships but fell to eighth at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missing the Olympic team.

He earned his second U.S. Championships silver medal last year. On Friday, Rippon said of Chen, “He’s the future, but right now I think we want to be the present.”

“I’m like a witch, and you can’t kill me,” Rippon said after winning on NBC.

Aaron was third at the 2014 U.S. Championships, missing the two-man Olympic team, and fourth at the 2015 U.S. Championships, missing the three-man World Championships team.

This season, Aaron won Skate America in October, becoming the first U.S. man to take a Grand Prix title since 2011.

In St. Paul, Aaron landed one quad in his short program and two in his free skate, staying on his feet in both programs.

Aaron came into the U.S. Championships as a clear favorite due in part to the absences of both Sochi Olympians (Jason Brown, back strain, and Jeremy Abbott, sitting out this season) and 2015 U.S. bronze medalist Joshua Farris (concussion).

The last time the U.S. Championships men’s event included zero Olympians was 1968.

NBC Sports’ U.S. Championships All-Access Page