SAITAMA, JAPAN (AFP) – American Nathan Chen overcame a dashing Yuzuru Hanyu free routine with an electrifying performance of his own on Saturday (March 23) to retain his world figure skating title in Japan.
The 19-year-old, who dominated Thursday’s short skate, kept his cool after watching Hanyu break the world record to smash it again himself, scoring 216.02 points for a winning total of 323.42 in Saitama.
Olympic champion Hanyu, just recently returned from an ankle injury that forced him out of December’s Japanese nationals, took to the ice to deafening cheers after gently tweaking the nose of the stuffed Winnie the Pooh he carries with him everywhere.
Third after the short routine, Hanyu nailed a quadruple lutz, triple toe-loop combo on his way to a score of 206.10 points, becoming the first skater to clear the 300-point mark by 0.97.
The 24-year-old Hanyu pumped his fist and shot a death glare towards the judges as an avalanche of Pooh bears rained onto the ice from his legions of adoring fans.
But despite immense pressure, Chen hit back with interest, crushing four gorgeous quadruple jumps, including a quad toe-loop, triple toe-loop combination he executed in an apparently effortless manner.
Fellow American Vincent Zhou took bronze after an ethereal free skate that earned him a total of 281.16 points.
A shattered Hanyu could barely conceal his disappointment after failing to win a third world title.
“Honestly, I’m gutted to lose, but I have to accept that I just wasn’t good enough,” said the two-time Olympic gold medallist.
“Figure skating is about being in the zone over two days and I didn’t do that. I have to go away now and work out a way to come back stronger.”
Shoma Uno, who took silver behind his illustrious countryman at last year’s Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang, finished a distant fourth on a total of 270.32 points after crash-landing his first two quad attempts.
China’s Jin Boyang finished fifth on 262.71 points with Russian Mikhail Kolyada placing sixth with a total of 262.44.
Earlier, French ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron completed a successful defence of their world title with a flawless free routine.
Now four-time world champions, they made headlines for the wrong reasons at last year’s Winter Olympics after a wardrobe malfunction that left Papadakis overexposed during their rhythm dance routine.
But there was little danger of a repeat with Papadakis in a figure-hugging, long-sleeved pink top cut above the waist as the gold medal favourites nailed their twizzles and curve lifts with a fluidity their rivals could not come close to.
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