Today’s first day of competition at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships was everything that skating fans hope for. There were magical performances, there were unexpected surprises, and there was an enthusiastic, supportive crowd in Boston that brought out so much from each and every one of the skaters.
It was not a world record this time – though it was very close to one – but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu delivered another magical short program when it counted. And this performance came after a tense practice session earlier in the day where Hanyu was a tad bit off his game and got frustrated. But it was clear when he got on the ice for warmup that his focus was laser-sharp.
Hanyu goes in 12 points ahead over everyone else, including the two men who won the most recent World titles. Defending champ Javier Fernandez fell on his quad sal and is in second, while three-time champ Patrick Chan fell on his triple axel and is in third. And because of those mistakes, it was clear what the standings would be. But even if all three of them had skated cleanly, Hanyu had the advantage over Fernandez in components and over Chan in base value, so there would not have been an argument there either.
While Hanyu is not absolutely unbeatable right now, the 12-point gap does make it all that much harder for Fernandez and Chan to make a comeback. But these programs are super risky and ice is slippery.
I felt that I was able to skate with confidence and joy today, and I am happy about this.
– Yuzuru Hanyu after the short program
Russia’s Mikhail Kolyada was the biggest early surprise, hitting a personal best short to lead for quite a while until Boyang Jin supplanted him in the second-to-last group. Likewise, in ice dance earlier in the day, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier rode their revamped short dance all the way to a personal best thanks in part to achieving all Level 4 elements. In the process, they upset 2015 World champions Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte and grabbed fifth place going into the free dance.
There were some not-so-great surprises as well. The biggest ones were in the men’s short, where two skaters who finished in the top ten last year did not even make it out of the short program. Canada’s Nam Nguyen, fifth last year and a late replacement for Liam Firus, who was originally chosen for the Canadian team. The decision, officially, was made by Firus and his team to give Canada the best chance to regain three spots for next year’s Worlds. But with Nguyen not qualifying for the free skate, that will not happen.
Tenth last year and recently the bronze medalist at Four Continents, Han Yan let an early mistake ruin his concentration and lost all sorts of points as a result. Yan has never been known to be a consistent skater, but finishing outside the top 24 was low probability even for him.
Less disappointing but still surprising was defending bronze medalist Denis Ten, who came in with question marks after an injury-filled season. And even with some solid practices, he didn’t put it together in the short here. He’s currently sitting in 12th, but only less than three points away from eighth.
The American men are in solid spots going into the free skate. Adam Rippon showed that his quad-less strategy can work with risky programs all around him. He is currently seventh and five points from fourth. Max Aaron made a mistake early but recovered well to trail Rippon by under five points in eighth.