It was one of the strongest men’s short program competitions in recent memory in Kent, Wash., Friday night at 2012 Skate America. Yuzuru Hanyu, the phenom from Sendai, Japan, stole the show with an impeccable performance that earned the highest score for a short program in history—95.07 points.
“Ninety-five is an extremely high score and I wasn’t expecting it,” said the 17-year-old. “I’m very surprised. I want to concentrate on the free skate now. This is only part of the event and I want to control my thoughts until the very end.”
Hanyu was flawless throughout his Parisienne Walkways performance, opening with an easy quadruple toe loop that earned a whopping 12.30 points. The reigning World bronze medalist saved his other two jumping passes—an effortless triple Axel and a triple Lutz-triple toe loop for the second half of the program.
“The rules have changed since last season, so I was able to take advantage of the bonus for landing the jumps late in the program,” he explained. “I am really surprised by the score, but I don’t want to think about it too much. It’s only the first Grand Prix, and I don’t want to get too excited and let my emotions get the best of me.”
Hanyu’s program was chock full of choreographic nuances which he executed with flair and excitement. As a result, the leader was also rewarded with the highest program component scores of the night (51.71/43.36).
“I was focused on my technical score, so I was very surprised,” said Hanyu. “I wasn’t really focused on the artistic score, but now that you told me the performance score was high as well, I am very surprised. I have been doing very well in practice, so I’m pleased.”
Hanyu has a nearly 10-point lead over teammate and former World silver medalist, Takahiko Kozuka. The 23-year-old skated a refined program to the Concert Overture from Exodus, earning a personal best of 85.32 (45.57/39.75) points.
“I am very happy that I skated clean,” Kozuka said after the competition. “The score is something to build upon for tomorrow where I hope to continue to skate well.”
Kozuka earned high marks on all of his jumping passes, and like Hanyu, took advantage of earning a bonus for placing his last two passes after the midway point of his program. The lone mistake was an unsteady landing on his opening quadruple toe loop that cost him just .71 points.
“The quad is now so important in the short program,” acknowledged the Japanese silver medalist. “It is worth over ten points, which is double the score of a triple flip. That shows how important it really is.”
Standing in third place is USA’s Jeremy Abbott, who earned 77.71 (37.81/40.90) points with his “Spy” program.
“I was happy with my program today,” said the 28-year-old. “My goal here was to do a quad in both programs, get the levels, be solid, and complete everything else. I took that first step today. I did exactly what I wanted to do. It wasn’t clean, but I’m happy with where I am right now.”
Abbott opened with a fall on a quadruple toe loop attempt, but regrouped to nail the rest of the elements in the program, including a textbook triple Axel and a strong triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination.
“The talent in the men’s field is astronomical,” observed the three-time and current US champ. “You can’t get by with a triple-triple combination in the short program anymore. You have to do a quad and land it cleanly, and you have to do one, two, or three in the free skate. The talent level is so great that if you don’t skate perfectly, you can be left behind.”
Finishing in fourth was Japan’s Tatsuki Machida, who did not attempt a quadruple jump. The former Four Continents silver medalist skated clean with a crowd-pleasing performance to C2C’s F.U.Y.A. that featured a strong triple Axel and triple-triple combination. He earned 75.78 (38.65/37.13) points.
Former Russian champion Konstantin Menshov, 29, finished in fifth place, and landed the only quadruple-triple combination of the competition. A fall on an triple Lutz attempt was the lone mistake in his program that scored 73.32 (39.72/34.60) points.
Last year’s champion, Michal Brezina from the Czech Republic, had two falls and finished in sixth place (69.26).
USA’s Armin Mahbanoozadeh also suffered a fall to finish seventh (68.27). The 21-year-old, who replaced Evan Lysacek, sprained his ankle during on Thursday during practice.
“I was feeling really prepared coming into this,” said the US pewter medalist. “The ankle thing yesterday kind of threw a wrench into things, but it’s kind of taken my mind off of the pressure.”
“I had a fantastic warm up that unfortunately didn’t translate to the performance,” he added, “but overall, I’m happy with it.”
Sweden’s Alexander Majorov came in eighth, followed by Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic and USA’s Douglas Razzano.