Is Yuzuru Hanyu beatable? World Championships men’s preview

Yuzuru Hanyu
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BOSTON — This edition of the World Figure Skating Championships could be billed as the greatest three-man competition in 28 years. Except one skater is in a class of his own.

Three different men’s World champions from the last three years will go head-to-head-to-head at Worlds for the first time since 1988 this week in Boston.

There is defending champ Javier Fernandez of Spain. There is three-time World champion Patrick Chan of Canada, at his first Worlds since his last title in 2013.

And then there is the man who deserves his own paragraph, Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, the Olympic and World champion of 2014.

Three men from three continents, but one is the clear gold-medal favorite.

“There’s definitely people that can take the title from Yuzu,” NBC Olympics analyst Johnny Weir said, “but at this point it’s definitely his to lose.”

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Hanyu, a 21-year-old who trains in Toronto under 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser (one of that 1988 Worlds trio), had actually been beaten in four of his last five top-level international competitions going into November.

But he soared at his next two fall events, shattering Chan’s 2013 record for most points in the decade-old judging system (by a whopping 27.13) at NHK Trophy in Japan. And bettering that by another 8.03 at the Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, where he distanced second-place Fernandez by 37.48 points.

“When he skates well and clean, it is untouchable,” NBC Olympics analyst Tara Lipinski said. “But we’ve seen Yuzu fall apart or make several mistakes or get sloppy.”

Like in his last two defeats.

Chan outscored Hanyu in both programs at Skate Canada in October, in the Canadian’s first top-level competition since taking double silver at the Sochi Olympics. Hanyu stood sixth in the short program after receiving zero points for two of his three jumping passes, then fell on a triple Lutz in the free skate.

At last year’s Worlds, Fernandez became the first Spaniard to take the title. Hanyu fell on his lone quadruple jump attempt in the free skate, as Fernandez overtook him in Shanghai.

And in Hanyu’s last competition, the Japanese Championships on Christmas weekend, he fell three times over two programs (but still won by 19.21).

“He isn’t faultless,” Weir said. “It would definitely take a real disaster of a performance for him not to be the front-runner, not to have that victory almost assured. But if he is a little bit off, Patrick Chan and Javier Fernandez both showed really stong performances at the Europeans [in January] and Four Continents [Championships in February].”

True. In their aforementioned most recent competitions, Fernandez put down his highest-scoring short program ever (a total bettered only by Hanyu under this system), and Chan recorded his best free skate ever (again, bettered only by Hanyu in this decade).

Soon but unlikely this week, Hanyu, Fernandez and Chan could be rivaled by a pair of 18-year-olds for gold.

China’s Jin Boyang landed six quads at the Four Continents Championships, finishing second to Chan.

Japan’s Shoma Uno, the reigning World junior champ, arrived on the senior stage by beating Fernandez and Chan at the free skate-only Japan Open exhibition in October. Then he kept Chan off the podium at the Grand Prix Final in December.

“Jin Boyang in particular, he’s got the technical firepower, but the artistry, no matter how well he jumps, his artistry is what brings him off the podium,” Weir said. “Shoma Uno is wonderful technically and artistically. It’s going to be about controlling his nerves and keeping it all together.”

A medal is not expected from the U.S. contingent of national champion Adam RipponMax Aaron and Worlds rookie Grant Hochstein. In Rippon and Aaron’s five combined Worlds appearances, the best finish was Rippon’s sixth in 2010.

Rippon has backed off from February hopes of adding a quadruple toe loop or a quadruple Salchow to his quadruple Lutz. He said after practice Monday at TD Garden that he plans only the Lutz and only in the free skate.

Rippon, still the only man to win back-to-back World junior titles (2008 and 2009), is strong in other areas such as spins. But even he recognized the void when asked what one thing he would take from Hanyu, Fernandez or Chan’s bags of tricks.

“I would take their quads,” he said. “But I hope that if I took it, they wouldn’t have it back.”

The key for the U.S. men will be the number 13. If the top two U.S. men’s placements this week add up to greater than 13, the U.S. will downsize from three men to two for the 2017 World Championships.

That means that one of Rippon, Aaron and Hochstein must finish sixth or better to have any shot at meeting a combined 13.

“A big ask,” Weir said. “If everyone skates their best … that really puts the United States men looking at a top-10 finish almost as if it would be like winning a medal.”

Here are Lipinski and Weir’s medal predictions from last week:

Lipinski
Gold: Hanyu (JPN)
Silver: Fernandez (ESP)
Bronze: Chan (CAN) or Uno (JPN)

Weir
Gold: Hanyu (JPN)
Silver: Chan (CAN)
Bronze: Fernandez (ESP)

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Svetlana Romashina, seven-time Olympic champion artistic swimmer, retires

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Russian Svetlana Romashina, the most decorated artistic swimmer in Olympic history with seven gold medals, announced her retirement at age 33.

Romashina entered seven Olympic artistic swimming events and won all of them, starting in 2008. She won four Olympic titles in the team event and three in the duet (two with Nataliya Ishchenko and one with Svetlana Kolesnichenko).

The Tokyo Games marked her last major competition.

Romashina is the only woman to go undefeated in her Olympic career while entering seven or more events. The only man to do so was American track and field athlete Ray Ewry, who won all eight of his Olympic starts from 1900-08, according to Olympedia.org.

Romashina also won 21 world championships medals — all gold, second in aquatics history behind Michael Phelps‘ 26.

She took nearly two years off after giving birth to daughter Alexandra in November 2017, then came back to win three golds at her last world championships in 2019 and two golds at her last Olympics in 2021.

Romashina is now an artistic swimming coach, according to Russian media.

Russian swimmers swept the Olympic duet and team titles at each of the last six Olympics.

Russians have been banned from international competition since March due to the war in Ukraine.

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Mikaela Shiffrin, three gates from gold, skis out of world championships combined

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Mikaela Shiffrin was three gates from a record-tying seventh world championships gold medal when she lost her balance and straddled a gate, skiing out of the first race of worlds on Monday.

Italian Federica Brignone won the women’s combined instead, prevailing by 1.62 seconds over Swiss Wendy Holdener, the largest Olympic or world championships men’s or women’s margin of victory in the event since it switched from three runs to two in 2007.

Austrian Ricarda Haaser took bronze in an event that is one run of super-G followed by one run of slalom.

At 32, Brignone, the 2020 World Cup overall champion, won her first global title and became the oldest female world champion in any event.

“What was missing in my career was a gold medal,” she said. “So I’m old. No, I’m just kidding.”

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Shiffrin was sixth fastest in the opening super-G run, 96 hundredths behind Brignone. She skied aggressively in the slalom in a bid to beat Brignone. Shiffrin cut the gap to eight hundredths by the last intermediate split with about 10 seconds left on the course in Meribel, France.

Shiffrin looked set to overtake Brignone until tripping up slightly with five gates left. It compounded, and Shiffrin couldn’t save the run, losing control, straddling the third-to-last gate and skiing out. The timing system still registered her finish — 34 hundredths faster than Brignone — but it was quickly corrected to the obvious disqualification.

Asked on French TV if she lost focus, Shiffrin said, “People are going to say that no matter what.”

“The surface changed a little bit on these last gates, so [on pre-race] inspection I saw it’s a bit more unstable on the snow,” she added. “I tried to be aware of that, but I knew that if I had a chance to make up nine tenths on Federica, or more than that, like one second, I had to push like crazy. So I did, and I had a very good run. I’m really happy with my skiing.”

It marked Shiffrin’s first time skiing out since she did so in three races at last February’s Olympics, where her best individual finish was ninth in five races. At the Olympics, she skied out within the first 13 seconds in each instance. On Monday, she was more than 40 seconds into her run.

“I was thinking, now I’m going to go through the mixed zone. and everyone’s going to ask, ‘Oh, is this Beijing again?'” Shiffrin said. “I didn’t really think about that for myself, but more for the people asking. But I also said before, coming into this world champs multiple times, I’m not afraid if it happens again. What if I don’t finish every run? What happened last year, and I survived. And then I’ve had some pretty amazing races this season. So I would take the season that I’ve had with no medals at the world championships. If it’s either/or, then I would take that. I’m happy with it. But I’m going to be pushing for medals, because that’s what you do at world champs. You wear your heart on your sleeve, and you go for it. I’m not afraid of the consequences, as long as I have that mentality, which I had today.”

NBC Sports analyst Steve Porino said what happened Monday was “completely different” from the Olympics, calling it “an error of aggression.”

“It certainly wasn’t nerves that sent her out,” Porino said on the Peacock broadcast. “This was Shiffrin knowing that she had to have a huge run to get the gold medal.

“The way she went out this time, I think she can brush that one off.”

Shiffrin was bidding to tie the modern-era records for individual world championships gold medals (seven) and total medals (12). Coming into Monday, she earned a medal in her last 10 world championships races dating to 2015.

Her next chance to match those records comes in Wednesday’s super-G, where she is a medal contender. Norway’s Ragnhild Mowinckel is the world’s top-ranked super-G skier through five races on the World Cup this season, though she was 71 hundredths behind Brignone in Monday’s super-G run.

Shiffrin has raced two super-Gs this season with a win and a seventh place.

She is expected to race three more times over the two-week worlds, which is separate from the World Cup circuit that she has torn up this season.

Shiffrin has a tour-leading 11 World Cup wins in 23 starts across all disciplines since November, moving her one shy of the career victories record of 86 accumulated by Swede Ingemar Stenmark in the 1970s and ’80s. Again, world championships races do not count toward the World Cup, which picks back up after worlds end in late February.

Worlds continue Tuesday with the men’s combined.

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