Remember when NHK Trophy two weeks ago was Yuzuru Hanyu’s perfect storm? Well, apparently, you can get more perfect than a perfect storm. Yesterday’s men’s free skate at the 2015 Grand Prix Final was the site of the finest set of four men’s free skates I’ve ever seen. And indeed, this Barcelona storm for Hanyu had very similar elements – flawless performances, Hanyu’s history, and in a lot of ways, an electric Japanese audience (it may not have been in Japan, but hundreds of Japanese fans traveled to Spain for the Final).
But GPF had one more element that made it perfect-er – an escalation of performances that culminated with Hanyu’s free skate. Starting with Patrick Chan, then to Shoma Uno, and then to Javier Fernandez, the scores were so astronomical that another clean skate from Hanyu would’ve broken the ceiling (again). And, of course, the rest is history (again).
So in my first part of the Grand Prix Final analysis, let’s have a look back at the men’s free skate – revisiting the GOAT debate and, somewhat even more importantly, what this competition revealed about one not-often-discussed limitation of the IJS.
The last Greatest of All Time (GOAT) post about Hanyu was less about Hanyu as GOAT but more about his performances at NHK as GOAT. But within a matter of two weeks, he had four record-breaking programs, this time among some of the all-time best free skates, my GOAT conversation has been redirected to looking at Hanyu himself as GOAT.
Is he there yet? Not quite. There is an element of sustained dominance and consistency of results that is needed. And “consistent” has never really been a word that describes Hanyu – but perhaps that has turned.
This Grand Prix Final also revealed some major limitations of the IJS that have been bubbling under but never really seen the light of day. What’s that limitation? The technical score (TES) has no limit, whereas the components score (PCS) maxes out – for the men, the maximum is 50.00 in the short and 100.00 in the free; for all other disciplines, it’s 40.00 and 80.00. And this has never been much of an issue because the TES has never come that close to 100 points.
But with the increase in quads, we are seeing something quite different now. In Barcelona, an unprecedented four free skates broke the 100-point TES barrier (Boyang Jin, Uno, Fernandez, and Hanyu) and Chan’s was a couple points away. Historically, the best men’s free skates in the world hover around half and half when it comes to TES vs. PCS in the free, and average free skates tend to weigh more heavily in the PCS category. But at the Grand Prix Final, all five programs weighed greater than 50% in TES, with Hanyu’s at 55% and Jin at 57%, higher than any winning free skate at a Worlds and Olympics.
The issue of having a theoretically unlimited upside in TES vs. a cap in PCS means that skaters with extremely high technical difficulty will have a disproportionately larger advantage over skaters with extremely high components. Case in point – Boyang Jin. He took two silvers on the Grand Prix almost solely because he’s got the two most difficult programs in the world and is consistent. Hanyu, with slightly a less difficult free skate than Jin, scored over 120 points in TES, which is impossible to do in PCS.
So that’s to say that, as programs continue to become more difficult, there will be more guys capable of scoring 100+ technical points in the free skate, which makes it more and more of a jumper’s game. But of course, jumpers who are also brilliant skaters should come through, as seen in Jin scoring lower overall than the other four men.
Will the ISU revisit this cap in PCS? It’s very likely that it’ll happen at some point in the next couple of years, especially if 100+ TES programs continue to increase. It also depends on whether the ISU wants this to be a jumper’s sport or a skater’s sport. And I’d imagine that the heavy majority of judges, officials, skaters, and fans would say the latter.