American Nathan Chen rallied past Japanese megastar Yuzuru Hanyu for the figure skating world title with a masterful five-quadruple jump free skate in Stockholm on Saturday.
Chen, undefeated since placing fifth at the 2018 Olympics, cemented his favorite status for the 2022 Winter Games by overcoming an 8.13-point deficit from Thursday’s short program.
“I wouldn’t necessarily say this was my best free program ever, but it’s definitely one that I’ll remember forever,” he said. “I was in a position where, in theory, I can come back, but realistically I know these guys are going to lay down [strong programs].”
They didn’t come close to matching Chen. He totaled 320.88 points to prevail by 29.11 over another skater from Japan, 17-year-old Yuma Kagiyama, becoming the second man to three-peat as world champion in the last 20 years (after Canadian Patrick Chan).
A flawed Hanyu took bronze, another 2.59 back, after topping the short program. It’s his lowest finish in any competition since November 2014.
Worlds conclude later Saturday with the free dance.
Chen, after falling on a quad Lutz to open his short program, began his free skate by nailing the same jump. He then rattled off four more quads — flip, Salchow, toe loop and toe loop, all with strong grades of execution. He put out the score to beat, which Hanyu could not sniff with four quads in his free skate 16 minutes later.
“This is the best I’ve ever seen Nathan Chen,” NBC Sports analyst Johnny Weir said of a man who similarly battled back in the 2018 Olympics with a six-quad free skate to move up from 17th to fifth (under different rules that made six quads more doable).
Hanyu, after a flawless short program, erred on his first three jumping passes — putting a hand down on a quad Loop, stumbling out of a quad Salchow and landing low on a triple Axel — and was fourth in the free skate.
“It was very exhausting, and it was like I was losing my balance one by one, but I tried to make sure that I don’t fall,” Hanyu said, according to the International Skating Union. “Overall, I wasn’t feeling that bad. And in the practice, it wasn’t that bad either. But all of a sudden going into my program, my balance started to crumble.”
He lost all three head-to-heads with Chen since the 2018 Olympics. None were close — margins of 43.87, 31.7 and 22.45. No man has won three consecutive Olympic titles in 90 years.
Hanyu spoke last year about lacking the motivation to skate on. After the bronze, he said he wanted to continue training a quad Axel, which no man has landed in competition. It could help him close the gap to Chen.
Kagiyama, the 2020 Youth Olympic champion, became the youngest men’s singles medalist since Hanyu in 2012, doing so in his senior worlds debut. Kagiyama, second after the short program, landed three quads in his free skate.
Kagiyama, coached by his father, an Olympian in 1992 and 1994, continued an ascent. He was the 2020 World junior silver medalist and took third at December’s Japanese Nationals behind Hanyu and Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno (who was fourth at worlds).
Chen is only 21, but he’s now facing challengers who see him as a role medal.
“I am not at his level yet, but I hope one day to be able to compete alongside him as an equal,” Kagiyama said last March, according to Europeonice.com.
Jason Brown, the other American to qualify for the 24-man free skate, was seventh as the top finisher without a fully rotated quadruple jump. Brown landed an under-rotated quad to open his free skate and kept his standing from the short program.
“I gave it all I got,” a smiling Brown, who has skated on the top senior international level since 2013, told coach Tracy Wilson as he left the ice.
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