Golden Skate

Chen defends World title with record scores

Nathan Chen

USA’s Nathan Chen performs his Free Skate at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships.

USA’s Nathan Chen defended his title in the Men’s event at the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships on in Saitama, Japan on Saturday night. Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan moved up from fourth place to take the silver—his sixth world medal, while USA’s Vincent Zhou earned the bronze in his second appearance at this event.

Last to skate, Chen had to perform right after crowd-favorite Hanyu laid down a brilliant free skate.

“It is a huge honor to even be at this event with Yuzuru in Japan,” said Chen. “I was fully expecting him to bring the house down and bring everyone to their feet, and have this crazy atmosphere. And that was exactly that.”

“Fortunately, the ‘Poohs’ were on one side of the rink, so I could sort of skate in the middle,” he added. “It was all central to one side. It is amazing to see how much the audience cares for us and how much they truly love skating. The ice being covered in Pooh bears was truly representing for how passionate they are for it. For him, they had such huge reaction, and subsequently I skated and they supported for me in the similar manner, although a little bit less.”

Chen was flawless in his powerful routine to “Land Of All” by Woodkid which featured four clean quads: Lutz, flip, toe, and quad toe-triple toe. The 2018-19 Grand Prix Final champion also nailed all triple jumps, including a triple Axel and earned a level 4 on spins and footwork, racking up may positive grades of execution (GOE) along the way. He earned a record-breaking Free Skate score of 216.02 and maintained first overall with another record Total score of 323.42.

“It is amazing feeling to be up here with these two guys!” said Chen at the press conference. “I am so proud of the U.S. We have two medalists now. The competition was awesome. It is always a great pleasure to be able to compete in Japan. It so so cool and awesome to compete in front of such a loud crowd. I skated two programs here, and I am ultimately happy with how it worked. I want to have more experiences like this.”

When asked about the Beijing Olympics in 2020, Chen noted that is around the corner.

“There is still a lot of skating to be done before that,” the 19-year-old acknowledged. “I think it is a little premature to think what it will be like. Ultimately, I mean, I am doing this sport because I want to represent U.S. in the end. Fortunately, I have had such an experience, but I want to have that feeling again. As for now, I would like to embrace this moment, because I am so happy that I am down here in this competition.”

“As for the plans for the Olympics, the conversation must be made with my coaches, my team, with everyone,” Chen said. “I do not even know what is our plan right now for the next season, so it is hard to say now. I am excited that there is going to be a lot of amazing skating till then.”

The only error Hanyu made in his dynamic routine to “Art On Ice” was underrotating a quad Salchow. The 2017 World champion otherwise produced a quad loop, quad toe, and quad toe-triple Axel sequence. His triple jumps were solid and he earned a level four on all spins while the footwork was a level 3. He scored a new season’s best of 206.10 for second place in the free skate and moved up from third to second overall (300.97).

“I was disappointed gaining only silver, but I am thankful that I have got a chance to compete with such distinguished athletes and got a motivation to get stronger from them,” said the 24-year-old. “I will try my best to improve and to catch up with these two great athletes I respect so much.”

The 2018 Rostelecom Cup and Grand Prix Helsinki champion does not currently have a plan for next season, much less the 2020 Olympics.

“I will check the condition of my ankle first before thinking of it,” said Hanyu. “I want to consider many things from now on. I have won the Olympics two times in the past, and I think that the Olympics itself is an amazing event. I feel that the Olympics is the ultimate goal every figure skater should go for. With getting the gold in Olympics, you are becoming the true champion. I am looking forward to know who is going to be the champion at the Beijing Olympics.”

When asked about the possibility of a quad Axel, Hanyu replied, “Of course, I want to land a quadruple Axel. I feel that there is no meaning if I land it on an ice show, it has to be a competition. There will be meaning once it is done in the competition and the (positive) GOE is added to it. Of course, I have to consider my condition when doing it. I will think about all the jumps, loop, Lutz, flip. As for edge jumps, the quality of ice has a great role in doing them. And toe jumps like Lutz and flip are worth more points. So, I am planning to practice both toe jumps and the Axel.”

Zhou, who was 14th last year in his World debut, left it all out on the ice with his dramatic routine to music from Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. The 2019 Four Continents bronze medalist underrotated a quad toe and the back end of a triple Lutz-Euler-triple flip, but was otherwise solid, landing a quad Lutz-triple toe and quad Salchow. All spins were graded a level 4 and he also scored a new season’s best of 186.99, placing third in the free skate and overall (281.16).

“It is still hard to believe that it has actually happened,” said the U.S. silver medalist. “That it is the best result I could possibly hope for, and to share the podium with Nathan Chen and Yuzuru Hanyu is unbelievable! I admire these guys so much and all of other competitors, too. To be able to compete and perform here in Japan was such an honor.”

“I do not think there is one stone left unturned when it came to the organization itself,” said the 18-year-old. “Everyone here has been so kind and so supportive. I am super proud that I was able to put together two strong performances, and I built upon what has been made on the nationals and Four Continents. To end the season like this is really incredible. It has been the first time since 1996 since two Americans have been on a podium, and I think it is really noteworthy. I am really honored to compete here and having the opportunity to skate here in Japan.”

Japan’s Shoma Uno, who stood in sixth after the short, finished fourth in the free skate (178.92) and overall (270.32). The 2018 Olympic silver medalist underrotated his two opening quads (Salchow and flip), but landed two quad toes (the second was meant to be in combination). All footwork and spins were graded a level 4 for which the 21-year-old received high GOES in his modern version of “Moonlight Sonata.”

“I am very disappointed with myself,” said the 2019 Four Continents champion. “I think I lost confidence and I lost to myself. I didn’t have a good image of those first two jumps (quad Salchow and flip), although I landed them successfully during the six minutes warm up. From this experience, I think I don’t have the mentality of the top level skaters. Other than that, it was okay overall.”

“I really admire Yuzuru Hanyu who always seeks for high scores and good results, which made me realize I am still immature,” said the current Japanese champion. “Overall, I am still disappointed in myself. I need to become mentally much stronger. I want to skate better next year so that when I look back at this World in the future, this would be a good lesson for my skating career.”

Boyang Jin of China moved up four places to fifth overall (262.71) after finishing fifth (178.45) in the free skate to music from the Hable Con Ella soundtrack. The Four Continents silver landed a quad Lutz, but underrotated A quad toe in combination with a double toe and later stepped out of a solo quad toe. He was otherwise clean, landing a total of six triples while displaying level 4 spins throughout.

“The program looked like a good performance, but there are several areas that I lost additional points and some levels,” noted the Chinese champion, who was 19th last year. “So this is not an ideal performance, but at the end, I skated till the end, so I guess I am satisfied with today. I actually felt better, more relaxed for the short program, but it didn’t lead to actual good performance.”

“I did these mistakes in the past, but I just want to skate better and show clean performances in the future,” the 21-year-old added. “With the new rules from this season, I need to continue to improve in things like speed, technique, style etc. My training gave me a lot of confidence, but once at the competition, I guess I couldn’t quite keep my confidence. My coach keeps telling me that I just need to be myself and try my best. Takeaway of this season is that I finally gained good feeling in the last few competitions, and I tried to skate my best. I just need to skate better in my next competition.”

Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada, who has been struggling this season, placed sixth with a new season’s best (178.21) with his “Carmen” free skate, and moved up from 10th to sixth overall (262.44). The defending bronze medalist landed a quad toe-triple toe, but stepped out of a solo quad toe and later received an edge call on a triple flip. He otherwise landed a total of five solid jumps and earned a level 4 on two of his spins.

The Russian silver medalist said it was hard to prepare for the free skate after a disappointing short program, but managed to take the ice with a clear mind.

“Obviously, there were some little technical issues, but overall, I am pleased with how I did,” said the 24-year-old. “The audience was very supportive and I felt that.”

Italian national silver medalist Matteo Rizzo finished 10th (164.29) in the free skate after falling on his opening quad. While he had to hang on to a triple Axel, he was otherwise solid, landing a eight triple jumps total, while showing level 4 spins throughout his routine to a Queen medley. With a total score of 257.66, the 2019 European bronze medalist slipped from fifth to seventh overall.

“I am a little bit upset, because the first quad (toe) was not good, so I lost my concentration and I had to fight through the program,” admitted the 2019 Winter Universiade champion. “At the end, it is a great result. Of course right now I am upset, but I will be happy tomorrow being in the top ten at the World Championships. I would like to be in the top three next year. I am going to work hard. I need to work on more quads of course, to achieve my dream to be a World Champion.”

Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic finished eighth in the free skate with a new season’s best (167.32) and overall (254.28) after his rock routine to “I’m a Man” and “Thunderstruck.” The 2018-19 Grand Prix finalist took a fall on an intended triple flip combo, but otherwise landed a solid quad Salchow-double toe as well as five more triple jumps. All spins and footwork were graded a level 4, however, the flying camel combination spin received a “V.”

“From the get go, it felt really good out there, “said the 2018 Skate America and Grand Prix Helsinki silver medalist. “When I started, I had in my head, ‘just do it,’ and I kept repeating it throughout the program and it felt really good. Just one stupid mistake towards the end of the program (fall on triple flip), but you know what, I am happy the season ended the way it did. It was a really good competition. I got two standing ovations, which especially in Japan is really amazing.”

The skater said that since his move to work with Rafael Arutyunyan, the environment has helped motivate him in practice and feels that his skating has greatly improved.

“I became more confident,” said the skater who will turn 30 next week. “I am definitely going to take a break, I need it. I am not sure if I am going to keep going, Rafael really wants me to. If my body can take it, if my mind is ready for it, and if it is completely on the ice and prepared to work, then I will keep going. If there is even a little bit of a doubt in my mind, or my body is not working the way that it needs to, I don’t think I am going to continue. Everyone wants to finish with a great performance.

USA’s Jason Brown, who stood in second after the short, took a fall on a quad Salchow, and finished 14th (157.34) in the free skate. With a total score of 254.15, he placed ninth overall.

“To be honest I feel great,” said the ever-exuberant skater. “It is not the performance that I had wanted, but I am so proud of the fight that I put out there, the growth that I made this year. Also I am so proud at my teammates. It feels amazing to perform here, I love the Japanese crowd, I love the feeling of performing out on that ice, especially in Japan. So I just kind of row on that wave of love and encouragement during the whole program.”

“This season, I was constantly pushed out of my comfort zone, we are constantly changing things, adapting things,” noted the U.S. bronze medalist. “Every time we go out to compete, it’s like we are trying something new. That has been the steps along the way, and I took another step today. Next season, I hope everyone will see how much progress I have made thus far, and this was kind of a glimpse what to expect in the future.”

Andrei Lazukin of Russia rounded out the top 10 (248.74) in his debut at this event.

“This season I have got a lot of experience and learned many things I can use in my future career,” said the skater, who recently finished fifth at the 29th Winter Universiade. “I feel I have found the good mood for the competitions, and managed to make my quads more consistent. I still need to fix my triple Axel, though. I am dreaming to win all the competitions I take part in. I think every athlete thinks the same. I promise I will work hard for it.”