By Pritha Sarkar
HELSINKI (Reuters) – Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu’s exquisite all-round skating skills allowed him to overhaul a massive 10.66-point deficit as he struck gold to end Javier Fernandez’s two-year reign at the world figure skating championships on Saturday.
The so-called revolution by the next generation of men’s figure skaters failed to gather steam on the final day of competition, with quad-jumping powerhouses Nathan Chen, Shoma Uno and Jin Boyang coming up short in their bids to overthrow the establishment.
Although Hanyu’s Japanese team mate Uno snapped up the silver and China’s Jin completed an Asian sweep of the medals, they could not match the grace and precision that the 22-year-old champion brought to the ice.
Two days after Hanyu’s gold-medal prospects appeared to be in jeopardy, when a landing on bended knee from his quad Salchow left him trailing in fifth place, the Winnie-the-Pooh fan had his coach Brian Orser banging the side hoardings in celebration as he racked up a world-record 223.20 points for the free skate.
“After the short program I was deeply depressed but my fans helped me to produce this performance today,” a beaming Hanyu told reporters after bagging his second world gold with a total of 321.59.
“I demonstrated everything I was capable of, my whole package. I wanted to do five quads but did not have enough energy.”
There was no need for Hanyu to take unnecessary risks of adding another quadruple jump to his program because his mesmerizing performance to Jo Hisaishi’s “Hope and Legacy” was absolutely flawless.
Woven in with four soaring quad jumps were his intricate footwork, sublime spins and inventive choreography – skills that set him apart from the chasing pack.
After watching Hanyu draw a masterpiece on ice with his blades, Orser was caught mouthing “Wow”, and it was a sentiment shared by the roaring Japanese fans who showed their appreciation by hurling an avalanche of Winnie-the-Pooh stuffed toys on to the ice.
Despite the record score, Hanyu ominously declared: “It’s great to beat my own world record by three points but I can get even higher scores.”
Coming into the final world championships before next February’s Winter Olympics, all the hype had been about the number of high-scoring quads the teenaged tyros were cramming into their programs.
On Saturday, a jaw-dropping 47 quads were attempted by 18 of the 24 men who made up the free-skate field.
Incredibly, 24 of those jumps featured during the final 40 minutes of the competition when the top six took to the ice.
Aged 17, Four Continents champion Chen has been the leading advocate of the skill and he was aiming to top his own record of landing five in a single performance, which he achieved at this year’s U.S. Championships.
But the perils of the jump, which requires skaters to execute four complete aerial revolutions, was clear within seconds of his routine as he fell on his opening Lutz. He went on to attempt five more quads, but landed only four.
So had the gamble been worth it?
“I don’t feel very good about it,” said Chen, who finished sixth. “I’m not going to lie. This wasn’t the program I wanted to perform.”
It was a sentiment shared by Fernandez, who had been the odds-on favorite to complete a hat-trick of victories after wowing the judges with his short program on Thursday.
That earned him a healthy 4.19-point lead over nearest challenger Uno going into Saturday’s free skate.
But a fall on his quad Salchow and two further botched landings dropped the Spaniard out of the medals and into fourth place.
(Editing by Ed Osmond, Neville Dalton)