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Five takeaways from world figure skating championships

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Five thoughts wrapping up the figure skating season after the world championships ended in Milan last weekend … 

1. Nathan Chen finished one program shy of a perfect season

Chen had the best season imaginable for somebody who did not earn an individual Olympic medal. Though the Olympic short program disaster made the podium unreachable, he rebounded with the best free skate by nearly nine points. He won his other six competitions and in the finale, worlds, had his best showing of them all to become the second man to break the 320-point barrier.

It creates a dichotomy going into next season and the next Olympic cycle. Chen clearly had the best overall season in men’s skating (Yuzuru Hanyu won the Olympics but was second in his other two competitions before missing two months due to injury), but to the casual fan the next four years will be a comeback from a fifth-place finish in PyeongChang.

About next season: No Olympics, but Chen’s task is tall. The world championships will be on home ice for Hanyu and Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno.

2. Russian dominance defeated

After going one-two at the Olympics, Russia nearly failed to qualify the maximum three spots for 2019 Worlds.

Olympic champion Alina Zagitova‘s three-fall free skate dropped her to fifth overall in Milan. Olympian Maria Sotskova also fell and had four jumps called under rotated, sliding from fifth to eighth. If either Zagitova or Sotskova slipped one more place, Russia would have two women instead of three at next year’s worlds.

Credit Canadian Kaetlyn Osmond for being the only gold-medal contender to deliver in the free skate. It had been her nemesis early this eason. For all the praise Zagitova received leading into and during PyeongChang (deserved), Osmond actually beat her in the short program at Grand Prix France and the Grand Prix Final in the autumn before struggling with late jumps in her free skates.

Osmond will benefit next season from this: Russia’s two best junior skaters can’t compete at senior worlds until 2020. So it will be up to Zagitova and Olympic silver medalist Yevgenia Medvedeva to keep it rolling, each coming off a defeat to end her season.

3. Bradie Tennell is the U.S. hope

Tennell, who was not on the Olympic radar until late last summer, was the top U.S. finisher at all of her competitions this season (not done since Ashley Wagner in 2012-13), closing with a solid sixth-place finish at worlds.

Mirai Nagasu (10th at the Olympics and worlds) is about to turn 25. Ashley Wagner is soon to be 27. Neither has publicly committed to skating next season. Tennell is the new face of U.S. women’s skating now and perhaps for years to come.

The 20-year-old from suburban Chicago had the benefit of her first healthy year as a senior. She went into the Olympics as the only woman without a fall the entire season. Tennell finally looked human at her last two events — a fall in her Olympic short program, two under rotations in her Olympic free skate and four negatively graded jumping passes in her world free skate. Not surprising for a skater at the end of by far the busiest season her young career.

4. Rivalry missing at the top of ice dance

Ice dance was defined by rivalries between training partners at the last two Olympics, but now it looks like the discipline with the clearest No. 1 heading into next season (pending rule changes that could impact scoring).

By all indications (but not official yet), PyeongChang gold medalists Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are done competing. The silver medalists, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, haven’t lost to anybody other than Virtue and Moir in more than three years. And that included a world title on Saturday with the highest score under the current points system.

Papadakis and Cizeron, who three years ago became the youngest ice dance world champs in 40 years, scored 200-plus points at all six of their top-level international events this season. Minus Virtue and Moir, no other couple has ever scored 197.

As for everyone else, keep this in mind: Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue may have missed the Olympic medals with Donohue’s free-dance fall, but they finished the season with the world’s best score in the non-Virtue/Moir/Papadakis/Cizeron division. Their world-silver-medal score would have beaten Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani for bronze at the Olympics by four points.

5. Questions for pairs

Russia missed the pairs’ medals at an Olympics for just the second time since 1964, but by next season could be back atop the discipline.

PyeongChang bronze medalists Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford retired after the Olympics.

PyeongChang silver medalists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong missed worlds due reportedly to another significant foot injury for Sui. In 2016, Sui underwent right ankle and left foot surgeries and was unable to stand for three months. Though she is only 22 and came back from those surgeries to win a world title in 2017, this is a concern.

The Olympic and world champions from Germany, Aljona Savchenko and Bruno Massot, could continue to dominate, but the 34-year-old Savchenko hasn’t committed to skating next season.

Russia had two of the top four pairs at worlds — Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov and Natalya Zabiyako and Aleksandr Enbert. None are older than 28.

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French ice dancers win third world title; first medal for U.S. champs

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French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron won their third world title, one month after an Olympic silver medal, while U.S. champions Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue earned their first world medal, a silver in Milan on Saturday.

Papadakis and Cizeron captured their third world title in four years by breaking world records in the short and free dances. The pre-event favorites totaled 207.20 points and prevailed by 10.56 over training partners Hubbell and Donohue.

Canadians Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje grabbed bronze.

It’s the largest margin of victory in ice dance at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 system was thrown out in 2004.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Papadakis and Cizeron’s score would have won the Olympics by 1.13 over Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, who skipped worlds and may never compete again. Papadakis’ dress came undone in their short dance in South Korea, exposing her breast, though they were just .14 off their personal-best short dance score at the time.

Hubbell and Donohue became the fourth different American couple to earn an Olympic or world medal in five seasons. They broke Meryl Davis and Charlie White‘s U.S. record for total score set in winning the Sochi Olympics.

It’s been a breakout year for the newest stars in the U.S.’ deepest figure skating discipline.

Hubbell and Donohue won their first national title in January after placing third or fourth the previous six years and were fourth at their first Olympics, giving up a potential bronze with Donohue’s fall in the free dance. Donohue also fell in the 2017 Worlds free dance after they were third in the short.

“We’ve done a lot of work toppling our demons, the fear, or all the what-ifs that go through our mind,” Hubbell said. “We had a history of making some errors and giving up our place.”

The French and U.S. couples shared coaches in Montreal the last two seasons, along with Virtue and Moir.

“Our goal is to get drunk together as many times as we can,” Cizeron said, drawing laughter at a press conference before adding, “that’s a joke.”

The world field lacked the Olympic gold and bronze medalists (Virtue and Moir and American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani). Medalists often skip the post-Olympic world championships due to off-ice opportunities, exhaustion or retirement.

The second U.S. couple in Milan, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates, were fifth after placing ninth at the Olympics, where they tangled skates and both fell in the free dance.

The third U.S. couple, 2014 World junior champions Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, improved from 15th after the short dance to finish 10th overall in their senior worlds debut.

The U.S. put three couples in the top 10 at worlds for the seventh time in eight seasons.

The 2018-19 figure skating season starts in earnest in October with Skate America in Everett, Wash.

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Nathan Chen wins world title by nearly 50 points after everyone falls

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Nathan Chen has the gold. It just came one month later than he had hoped (and against a much less impressive field).

The 18-year-old won the world championships on Saturday, becoming the first U.S. male singles skater to do so since Evan Lysacek in 2009 and the youngest man from any nation since Yevgeny Plushenko in 2001.

It came one month after Chen entered the Olympics as one of the favorites and finished fifth.

“I felt the pressure, but I used what I learned from the Olympics and tried to bring it here,” Chen said, adding that he wouldn’t trade this title for an Olympic gold.

Chen landed six quadruple jumps in his free skate (five clean), extending a 1.86-point lead from the short program to win by 47.63 points. Chen tallied personal-best free skate and total scores (219.46, 321.40), becoming the second man to break 320 total points after double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu.

It’s the largest margin of victory in any event at an Olympics, worlds or Grand Prix Final under the 14-year-old points system.

Every other medal contender fell multiple times in the free skate. Chen, going last, said he was aware of that. Yet he still went all-out with six quads rather than the five he planned before going to Milan.

“That [the skaters’ falls] actually helped solidify my approach for six quads because it gave me an opportunity to make a mistake,” Chen said.

Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno from Japan took silver despite three falls Saturday, reportedly skating through an ankle injury. Russian Mikhail Kolyada held on for bronze with two falls.

“I was not able to show my best,” Uno said, “but I did not give up until the end.”

American Vincent Zhou, third in the short program, also had three falls and ended up 14th. Jin Boyang, fourth in the short, fell five times and was 19th.

“I can’t even begin to describe how angry I am at myself for letting such an important FS [free skate] get away from me,” was tweeted from Zhou’s account, adding that he injured his back before leaving for Milan. “I’ve trained clean longs with 5 & 6 quads and I am so capable of being among the best.”

Later Saturday, French Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron rewrote the record books with the biggest ice dance blowout at an Olympics or worlds since the 6.0 was thrown out. A full recap is here.

WORLDS: Full Scores | Recaps | TV Schedule

Chen ended a season with six wins in seven events. That loss was costly, a fifth-place finish at the Olympics with that disastrous 17th-place short program.

But Chen rebounded not only in the Olympic free skate (highest score by nearly nine points) but also in Milan this week. Chen said he learned from PyeongChang to stop being “hell-bent” focused on gold.

His chances were no doubt boosted this week by the absences of Olympic gold and bronze medalists Hanyu and Javier Fernandez. Many medalists skip the worlds that are held one month after the Olympics due to exhaustion, off-ice opportunities or retirement.

This field lacked any prior Olympic or world champions for the first time since 1985.

Chen said before worlds he plans to continue competing next season, even though he may enroll in college. He will still work under Southern California-based coach Rafael Arutyunyan.

The third American, Max Aaron, finished 11th, landing one quad in his free skate, putting his hand down on a quad Salchow. Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, reportedly said it may have been his final competition.

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