Yuzuru Hanyu leads Nathan Chen at figure skating worlds

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Yuzuru Hanyu outscored Nathan Chen for the first time since the 2018 Olympics, topping the world figure skating championships short program in Stockholm on Thursday.

Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, landed two quadruple jumps in a 106.98-point effort skating to Robbie Williams‘ “Let Me Entertain You.”

Chen, undefeated since placing fifth in PyeongChang, fell on his opening quad Lutz and ended up third, also behind Yuma Kagiyama, the 17-year-old Youth Olympic champion from Japan.

Worlds continue later Thursday with the pairs’ free skate.

“I’m overall very satisfied, but having said that, there’s still a lot of room for improvement,” Hanyu said, according to a translator.

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Hanyu lost his previous five head-to-head programs with Chen, dating to the 2018 Olympic free skate.

He prevailed on Thursday despite spending most of the last year training alone in Japan, separated from Toronto-based coach Brian Orser and not going out save to the rink while finishing university studies. He conversed over video with Orser and choreographers Shae-Lynn Bourne and Jeffrey Buttle.

“I had to train on my own, and that really made me revisit skating, and my relationship with figure skating became much stronger,” he said.

Chen dominated their rivalry since his 17th-place Olympic short program, averaging 15 more points per program than the Japanese megastar going into worlds.

Skating right after Hanyu, Chen fell in competition for the first time since the December 2018 Grand Prix Final, ending a streak of 134 consecutive landed jumps. He has 8.13 points to make up in Saturday’s free skate.

“Medals are always something that I feel is so out of my control,” said Chen, trying to become the second man in the last 20 years to three-peat at worlds (Patrick Chan). “If I focus solely on trying to come in and beat this person or trying to do this or whatnot, I just feel like I’m then putting the wrong foot in the door.”

American Jason Brown was seventh on Thursday, as usual the highest-ranked man without a quad.

“The big unknown right now is just getting these programs out for the first time, trying to get the pacing right, being on difference ice surfaces for the first time in over a year,” said Brown, in his second competition since February 2020. “Today was a little bit more of a fight, but I’m proud of the fight I did.”

Vincent Zhou, the third American, was 25th and failed to qualify for the 24-man free skate. He fell twice among errors on all three of his jumping passes in his first major international competition since taking bronze at 2019 Worlds.

“It’s always better to talk about it than to drown in my own misery,” he joked afterward, noting full-body butterflies stepping onto the ice (though he landed a quad Lutz-triple toe loop combination warming up moments before his music began). “It feels like I let down my teammates and my country and myself, whatever, but dwelling on those things is only going to make me feel worse about it. I’m going to probably be miserable for a while, and then move on, put it in the past because today is absolutely not representative of who I am and how good I am as a skater. I really can’t let today get to my head.”

Zhou’s result means the U.S. can only qualify two of the maximum three Olympic men’s spots this week. Assuming Chen and Brown’s final results add up to no more than 13, the U.S. can earn that third spot at Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September using a skater other than Chen or Brown against a field lacking the world’s best.

Correction: An earlier version of this post reported that Yuma Kagiyama is the world junior champion. He is the world junior silver medalist.

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