Nathan Chen overtakes Yuzuru Hanyu for world title with five quads

Nathan Chen
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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.

FIGURE SKATING WORLDS: Results | TV, Stream Schedule

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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In a tie, Wendy Holdener puts to rest a remarkable stat in Alpine skiing

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Swiss Wendy Holdener ended one of the most remarkable victory droughts in sports by tying for the win with Swede Anna Swenn Larsson in a World Cup slalom in Killington, Vermont, on Sunday.

Holdener, after 15 second-place finishes and 15 third-place finishes in her career, stood on the top step of a World Cup slalom podium for the first time. She shared it with Swenn Larsson, who had six World Cup slalom podiums before Sunday and also earned her first win.

They beat Austrian Katharina Truppe by .22 of a second combining times from two runs.

ALPINE SKIING: Full Results | Broadcast Schedule

Holdener, 29, previously won three World Cups in other disciplines, plus two world championships in the combined and Olympic and world titles in the team event.

“To be tied first when I came into the finish was such a relief,” Holdener said while shoulder to shoulder with Swenn Larsson. “On the end, it’s perfect, because now we can share our first win together.”

Mikaela Shiffrin had the best first-run time but lost her lead midway through the second run and finished fifth. Shiffrin, who won the first two slaloms this season last weekend, was bidding for a 50th World Cup slalom victory and a sixth win in six slaloms in Killington.

“I fought. I think some spots I got a little bit off my timing, but I was pushing, and that’s slalom,” she said before turning her attention to Holdener and Swenn Larsson. “It’s a pretty special day, actually.”

The women’s Alpine skiing World Cup moves next weekend to Lake Louise, Alberta, with two downhills and a super-G.

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Injured Ilia Malinin wins Grand Prix Finland, qualifies for Grand Prix Final

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Ilia Malinin, competing “a little bit injured” this week, still won Grand Prix Finland and goes into the Grand Prix Final in two weeks as the world’s top-ranked male singles skater.

Malinin, who was second after Friday’s short program, landed four clean quadruple jumps in Saturday’s free skate to overtake Frenchman Kevin Aymoz.

Malinin, who landed a quad flip in competition for the first time, according to SkatingScores.com, also attempted a quad Axel to open his program, but spun out of the landing and put his hand down on the ice.

Malinin also won his previous two starts this season in come-from-behind fashion. The 17-year-old world junior champion became the first skater to land a clean, fully rotated quad Axel in September, then did it again in October at Skate America, where he posted the world’s top overall score this season.

Next, Malinin can become the second-youngest man to win the Grand Prix Final after Russian Yevgeny Plushenko. His biggest competition is likely to be world champion Shoma Uno of Japan, who like Malinin won both of his Grand Prix starts this fall. Malinin and Uno have not gone head-to-head this season.

Grand Prix Finland highlights air on NBC, NBCSports.com/live and the NBC Sports app on Sunday at 3:30 p.m. ET.

FIGURE SKATING: Results | Broadcast Schedule

Earlier, Japan’s Mai Mihara overtook world silver medalist Loena Hendrickx of Belgium to become the only woman to win both of her Grand Prix starts this season. Mihara prevailed by .23 of a point. The top three women this season by best total score are Japanese, led by a junior skater, 14-year-old Mao Shimada, who isn’t Olympic age-eligible until 2030.

Mihara and Hendrickx qualified for the Grand Prix Final, joining world champion Kaori Sakamoto and Rinka Watanabe, both of Japan, South Korean Yelim Kim and American Isabeau Levito, the world junior champion.

Italians Rebecca Ghilardi and Filippo Ambrosini won both pairs’ programs and qualified for their first Grand Prix Final.

Japan’s Riku Miura and Ryuichi Kihara and Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier headline the Final. Both pairs won each of their Grand Prix starts earlier this fall. The Japanese have the world’s two best scores this season. The Americans are reigning world champions.

At least one Russian or Chinese pair made every Grand Prix Final podium — usually pairs from both countries — but neither nation competed in pairs this Grand Prix season. All Russian skaters are banned due to the war in Ukraine. China’s lone entry on the Grand Prix across all disciplines was an ice dance couple.

Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier improved on their world-leading score for this season in winning the ice dance by 17.03 points over Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker. Both couples qualified for the Grand Prix Final in the absence of all three Olympic medalists this fall.

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