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Hanyu and Machida triumph at Worlds

by Tatiana Flade





Yuzuru Hanyu and Tatsuki Machida led the Japanese men to a one-two finish at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Saitama, Japan.  Spain’s Javier Fernandez earned the bronze like he had last year.

Short Program

Machida won the short program with an outstanding performance of his “East of Eden” program. He not only landed the jumps effortlessly - quad-triple toe loop combination, a triple Axel, triple Lutz – but also the spins and footwork were at a high level and the choreography and interpretation just stunning. The 24-year-old scored 98.21 points, surpassing his previous personal best by about seven points. “Apart from my scores I am very proud I could perform the best “East of Eden” ever for the audience. I think I could pay back for the Sochi at least with my short program. There is still the free program, but it was the best short program of the two years. I could hear the audience when I skated my last step sequence. I think this is my chance to get the medal,” Machida commented.

Fernandez was ranked second. He went clean was well, nailing a quadruple Salchow, triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe in his jazzy routine to “Satan Takes a Holiday”. The European Champion got a level four for all three spins and the footwork to achieve a personal best of 96.42 points. “I really enjoyed my skating today. Of course one skater did better than me but I am still happy with my performance and looking forward to do another good performance like today,” the Spaniard said. “After the Olympic Games it was not easy to go back to the rink, but I did my best to go back and train hard, my coaches pushed me hard every day,” he added.

Hanyu on the other hand fell on a quad toe in his program to “Parisian Walkways” by Gary Moore. The Olympic Champion recovered instantly and produced a triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe combination as well as level-four spins and footwork. The 19-year-old stayed in contention with 91.24 points. “Needless to say the toe loop wasn’t good. Even though I made a mistake in the toe loop I calculated the score and tried to recover the points by performing high point elements. Machida did well and it made me feel my performance today was not good enough. Hopefully I’ll do a better performance the day after tomorrow,” Hanyu stated.

Another highlight came from Tomas Verner. The Czech skater decided to make Worlds his last competition and delivered one of the best short programs of his long and distinguished career.  His fast paced program to “Dueling Banjos” featured a quad toe, triple Axel, triple Lutz-triple toe. As soon as the program was over, the overjoyed Tomas let himself fall on the ice and celebrated, and the capacity crowd at the Saitama Arena were on their feet. The 2008 European Champion earned  89.70 points, about six points over his previous personal best. “It's an unbelievable experience. More than 20.000 people stood up at the end. It was like a show but so much better. The end of my amateur career couldn't be any better,” Verner commented. “Already for the Olympics I was well prepared. But the practice within the last two weeks before the worlds was a dream. To practice together with (coach) Mr. Huth and Carolina (Kostner) just motivated me so much and I rediscovered my courage. In May last year, I've decided that I'm just going to the Olympic Winter Games. And in August or September Plushenko asked me, if I wouldn't like to do a whole bunch of shows for two month directly after the Olympic Games. And as I signed the contract, I basically couldn't withdraw on my own. But Plushenko is unfortunately injured and the tour was canceled and I was still in good shape. So did take back my decision and now I'm here,” he explained.

China’s Han Yan finished fifth with 86.70 points. His routine included a quad toe and big triple Axel, but he reduced his combo to triple Lutz-double toe. “It is too bad for the last jump. I probably was too happy as the beginning of the program went so well,” he said and admitted that skating last out of the 32 men made him very nervous.

The third Japanese man, Takahiko Kozuka, had come in as the replacement for Daisuke Takahashi, who is injured. He placed sixth with 85.54 points. His quad toe and triple Axel were somewhat shaky, but the other elements were strong.”I managed to do my short program without any big mistake. Moreover I marked my seasons best, I felt relieved but at the same time I have to concentrate on the free program now,” the 2011 World silver medalist noted. “I only had three weeks to prepare and I did prepare. But it is because of my coach and staff supported me a lot. I received an email from Daisuke Takahashi today on my way to the arena. I believe he wanted to be in the competition. So my thoughts were with him,” he answered when asked about coming in as a substitute.

Maxim Kovtun of Russia two-footed and under-rotated his quad Salchow and switched his combo to the toe. He hit a quad-double toe and good triple Axel in his Flamenco routine and finished seventh with 84.66 points. However, the component score seemed to high – he even had a little more than Jeremy Abbott and almost the same component score than Verner and Kozuka. ”I judge my program from two sides today. It was good that I fought until the end and I did almost everything I had planned. We never even did the option toe-toe (combination) in practice. I had to do it, because in my program I have Salchow-toe loop (as combination), but it didn’t work out. I realized immediately that I had to do another combination. I am happy that did it and the coaches were happy too, until they saw that the Salchow was under rotated. The short program is always very hard, very tense and you don’t have room for error,” the 18-year-old told the press.

Abott crashed on his opening quad toe that was underrotated but came back to produce a triple Lutz-triple toe and a triple Axel that was in the second half of his “Pina” program. His choreography, transitions and interpretation are among the best you can have and even with the mistake his components should have been higher. The US Champion was ranked 8th with 79.67 points. “I went out to such a warm perception I felt so much pride and excitement. I thrive on the audience I always do this. When I hear people screaming I feel like this is why I skate. All of the negative feelings were washed away when I heard the audience. And so I was allowed myself to skate and just to go after everything without any fear, anxiety or doubt. I am proud of my performance, I kind of did just the business and checked off the list and I am really happy about how I skated. The quad toe is just one of the things I have to squeeze like a thousands of a seconds more and I would have had it but it was so close. But what I’m proud is that even I made a mistake I kept myself in the competition, I didn’t let the mistake unwrap,” Abbott said.

His teammate Max Aaron pulled off a quad Salchow-triple toe combo but his triple Axel was not clean and under rotated. He came 9th (78.32 points). “There were a couple of mistakes here and there which cost me a couple of points but I’m happy that I was able to deliver. I would like to skate the long clean. I was really going for it (the quad-triple). I was pitched forward but I either way I was going to get it done,” the 22-year-old commented.

Chafik Besseghier was the only Frenchman in the Men’s event as Florent Amodio withdrew citing fatigue.  Besseghier lived up to the challenge to defend France’s honor and turned in a clean short with a quad-triple toe and triple Axel. The reward was a personal best of 76.80 points and place ten.

Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic pulled ligaments in his right ankle on the take-off of a flip – he doubled and fell and then also popped the Axel as his ankle was too weak. He was ranked 23rd but withdrew right after the short program due to his injury. “The beginning was fine; the quad Salchow was there, but the problem was the flip. I think I ran into a hole or something and most likely twisted my ankle there. And from there on it was just gone because my ankle wasn't responding to anything. It was like if you knock someone and he is trying to get up; that his how it felt. If it happened during the landing it would have been okay, but unfortunately it was during the take off. That is also why it was double, when I fell, but I couldn't land on it anyway,” he said.

Free Skate

The long program was a close competition. Hanyu edged out Machida by just 0.23 points for the gold medal.

Skating to “Romeo and Juliet” Hanyu landed a quadruple Salchow, quadruple toe loop, triple flip, triple Axel-triple toe and five more triple jumps. Two spins and the step sequence  were rated a level four and the Olympic Champion scored 191.35 points for the free skating. Overall the 19-year-old totaled 282.59 points and overtook Fernandez and Machida to win his first world title. He was a bronze medalist in 2012. “That was very close. There was a mistake in the short program so that is why my overall score ended up as it is. Overall, I did enjoy this competition. However, I hope that I can become a skater who can always end with strong performances. They (the quads) are still not perfectly consistent in practices yet, so I would like to go back and practice more. I felt the responsibility I have to win this event” Hanyu commented.

Short program leader Machida’s “The Firebird” was another choreographic masterpiece. The 24-year-old completed a quad toe, a quad toe-double toe, a triple Axel-triple toe as well as five more triple jumps, but two were shaky. These wobbles on the second triple Axel and the triple loop cost him the title. Still, Machida improved his personal best by about 10 points with 184.05 points and had 282.26 points overall. ”It’s been a very long and enduring season. I feel happy and a sense of achievement. This season, Yuzuru’s successes really encouraged me and pushed me through the season. As a result, I am here today. I was a little short of first place, but I hope  that I can improve for te next season we can walk through this journey together and I can become a better rival to him,” the skater commented.

Fernandez went for his three quads, and while the first Salchow was shaky, the second Salchow and the toe were fine. The European Champion also produced five triples in his program to the “Peter Gunn” soundtrack. His biggest mistake came when he singled a Lutz, but even he probably would have remained behind the two Japanese even if he had landed it. The result just would have been much closer. The 22-year-old scored a seasons best with 179.51 points and dropped from second to third at 275.93 points overall. “I did a good program, this is it, my season is done and I am completely happy. I am going to go home with my medal. It was a great competition, there was nothing more I could do these two skaters were amazing today and they deserve to be here,” the 22-year-old said.

Kovtun moved up from seventh to finish fourth at 247.37 points. The Russian popped his Salchow when he missed the take-off, but the rest of his program to Tchaikovsky's Piano Concerto No. 1 went well and he hit six triples. “I fought, that was a big plus and the coaches are pleased that I improved my personal best by eight points, although both programs were not a 100 percent. Here it was good that I was able to pull myself together well after that initial unexpected mistake and I was able to continue and do all the rest,” Kovtun explained. “This season there was a big progress and I have the feeling that this in by far not my limit. I can do a lot more that I am just not able to show yet. I have a lot of room to grow in my skating and my jumps, I can improve my endurance. In order to achieve very high placements, I need to make my programs much more difficult, which I am basically able to do,” he announced.

Abbott, always a crowd favorite, gave a beautiful performance to “Exogenesis Symphony” by Muse. It was basically clean with a quad toe and five triples plus level four spins and footwork, but he under rotated a triple toe and double toe in the combination with a triple Lutz. It was quite an emotional moment since the 28-year-old wanted to retire after this season.  The American moved up

from eighth to fifth with 246.35 points. “It’s really bitter sweet for me. I have so many emotions going through my head right now. I’m so happy with how I skated and that was exactly what I wanted to do here. And that’s what I have been training for. That was the best I have ever skated that program in competition and I’m so proud and honored to do it in Japan,” the four-time US Champion shared. “It’s been quite an incredible journey and I have always had great luck in Japan. I felt like it continued here this week and the audience was the best I’ve ever seen. The audience is always phenomenal but they took it a whole new level and for me, as a performer, that was more appreciated than anything else,” he continued. In later interviews Abbott said that he might reconsider his retirement, but he will take his time to make a final decision.

Kozuka remained in sixth place with 238.02 points. The quad toe was wobbly and he put his hand down on the triple Axel, later also stumbled badly on an under rotated second triple Axel. „I was exhausted in my free which was regretful. (After the program I smiled) because I was relieved that I could finish my program. Three weeks were not enough to prepare for the worlds and I already knew it will not be enough for competing in the last group. I did not feel the pressure, I focused on showing everything I can do but the problem was that I did many mistakes such as the combinations with the Axel,” he admitted.

Han Yan slipped to 7th as he crashed badly on a cheated triple Axel (231.91 points) and popped his quad toe into a double. Today’s performance was not so good. “I missed the second jump (quad toe) and the third jump (triple Axel). My short program was still okay, but I am not too pleased with my free program. It was a tough competition for me“, the 2012 World Junior Champion said.

Aaron had a rough skate as well. He stumbled through his program and only three triples were really clean. Thanks to the mistakes of others he even pulled up one spot to 8th and thus helped to secure three spots for the US men for next year (225.66 points). “It (my skating) was frustrating. I spent a tough time since the (US) championships but I tried to do my best to come over this and I trained. I have to think about what I can fix for the next season. It was embarrassing in front of the audience next time I will be ready that there will be no wishy- washy,” the 2013 US Champion vowed.

Besseghier on the other hand turned in a clean skate that included a quad toe and seven triples. He picked up another personal best in the free and totaled 224.19 points to finish 9th. “It is my first World Championship and to achieve my personal best score here was the goal and I went for it. My next step is to improve artistically in the next four years, because that was lacking a bit today. This was the first time for me to skate two clean programs in a major competition. This was my best program ever,” the 24-year-old said.

Verner plummeted all the way from 4th to 10th and it was sad to see him struggle again. He opened with a tight quad toe and things went downhill from then, he doubled the next toe and a Lutz, singled an Axel and a loop, something he has done in the past. Once again his nerves got the better of him. “That's bitter, really bitter and a bit strange. I was ready for Sochi, but I wasn't ready for having the hope to get a good placement and then screw it. Still the Japanese crowd applauded me. I guess it is more for my career than for the skating. I just feel sorry. I wanted to show more,” the 27-year-old said. He now plans to finish his MBA. “Then I'll jump into sports marketing management and will stay around sport forever, just not on skates,” he joked.

World Junior Champion Nam Nguyen celebrated a successful debut at Worlds. He fell on a transition in the short program but the rest of the short and the complete free were clean and the 15-year-old finished a respectable 12th.