Faceoff between Hanyu and Chen easily goes to Olympic champ

STOCKHOLM, Sweden (AP) — The faceoff between Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen was no contest.

Japan’s Hanyu, looking every bit the champion of the sport, won the short program Thursday at the World Figure Skating Championships, distancing himself from Chen when the American fell on his opening quadruple lutz while Hanyu was sheer perfection.

Hanyu has been the sport’s biggest attraction for two Olympic cycles, each of which ended with him wearing a gold medal. He showed why in a short program packed with difficulty, style, artistry and a ton of energy.

His body rotation on his jumps — a quad salchow, triple axel and quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination — was so fast it was almost imperceptible. His musical selection, “Let Me Entertain You,” by Robbie Williams, matched Hanyu’s frenetic performance that, had there been spectators on hand, would have left them as breathless as the skater.

No fans were on hand at the Ericsson Globe due to the coronavirus pandemic. Had they been, they certainly would have littered the ice with the Winnie the Pooh dolls that have become a Hanyu trademark. Renowned coach Brian Orser, a Pooh bear in hand holding a yuzu fruit (a Japanese citrus) by the sideboards, leaped high with every brilliant element by his skater.

There were no such celebrations from the Chen camp. The two-time defending world titlist hasn’t lost a competition since the 2018 Olympics. But he’s now more than eight points behind Hanyu’s 106.98 points. And Hanyu’s countryman, 17-year-old sensation Yuma Kagiyama, is between the two favorites in second place.

Chen, winner of the last five U.S. titles, struggled early in his program, similar to what happened at the Pyeongchang Olympics. He rallied Thursday, however, by sticking a triple toe loop on the back end of his quad flip so he would have a required combination. And his spins and footwork were strong and intricate.

But the fall did him in.

“I made a big mistake right off of the bat,” Chen said. “I had to figure out how to regroup. Mistakes happen. I’m glad I had this opportunity to learn from and move forward.”

As for rallying to a third consecutive world crown — no American has managed that since Scott Hamilton’s fourth in a row in 1984 — Chen wasn’t thinking that way.

“Medals are things that are out of my control. I feel like I am putting myself in the wrong mental state if I focus on that,” he said. “I’m going to take some time to analyze what happened with the quad lutz and do it better.

“Whatever the results are, I want to skate better, be better.”

Beyond the top tier, it was a flop-fest for several of the top men: Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, American Vincent Zhou and China’s Jin Boyang.

Zhou, a bronze medalist at the 2019 worlds — the event was canceled last March due to the pandemic — had one of the worst skates of his young career. Zhou fell on his quad lutz, under-rotated on his combination quad salchow-triple toe loop and then fell on a triple lutz. Looking bewildered by such a poor performance, Zhou plummeted to 25th and did not qualify for the free skate on Saturday.

“Clearly that’s not a result that I even wanted to consider coming into this competition. It’s disappointing,” Zhou said. “To me, it feels like I let down my teammates and myself, but dwelling on those things is only going to make me feel worse. I’m probably going to be miserable and then not dwell on it. I can’t let today get to my head.”

Uno crashed hard on his triple axel, while Jin, a two-time world bronze winner, fell on a quad lutz and then messed up the second jump in his combination. Uno wound up sixth, Jim was 19th.

Ever-entertaining American Jason Brown, who doesn’t have the jumps of the top men but is masterful in all other aspects of skating, was seventh.

Later Thursday is the pairs free skate, with Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii of Russia holding a 2.54-point edge over two-time world winners Sui Wenjing and Han Cong of China. The two American pairs are sixth and seventh, respectively.

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