by Klaus-Reinhold Kany
(11 December 2019) Skaters from Russia (two), China, France, Japan and the United States (one each) qualified for the men’s competition at the 2019 Grand Prix 2019 in the Olympic rink of 2006 in Torino. About 7,000 spectators watched the competition, among them perhaps half, or more, from Japan.
This competition of six skaters was a highlight of the Junior and Senior finals because for the first time in this season the two single skating superstars Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen competed against each other. Nathan Chen was the run-away winner, gaining a new world record of 335.30 points. In a quiet corner of the skating lounge and certainly in his hotel room, he could be seen reading books for his midterm examinations at Yale University which he has to pass next week. But when it came to practice or competition on the ice, he put aside his books and performed the best jumps and programs.
He skated in costumes different from those at his two Grand Prix and commented after the short: “I saw Vera (Wang) before I came here and she was gracious enough to really really quickly get the costume done. I’d been talking to her. In this costume I felt free and I think that’s really important.“
In the short program he used the song “La Boheme“ by Charles Aznavour, a French singer with Armenian background who had died last year. In this segment, Chen won 110.38 points which was a new personal best for him and 13 points ahead of Yuzuru Hanyu. He opened his routine with an outstanding quad Lutz, followed by a relatively good triple Axel and a good combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop. His three spins were excellent and his step sequence outstanding with three GOEs of +5 and six GOEs of +4. His components had an average of 9.5.
Talking in the same high speed as skating, he commented: “I’m happy with the score of course. I’m happy with the Lutz but I was a little shaky on the Axel and a little shaky on the toe loop. It’s an awesome opportunity to compete with Yuzuru, every time he pushes me and that makes things a lot more exciting. He’s one of the best ever to step on the ice and to have the opportunity to share the ice with a guy like that, someone I’ve watched grow up through the junior ranks since I was a baby.“
Chen could start his free program only after the ice had been cleaned from the hundreds of Winnie Poohs and other toys which Hanyu’s fans had thrown on the ice after his performance.
Skating to three pieces from “Rocketman“ by Elton John, Chen‘s first element was a stellar combination of quad flip and triple toe loop, followed by a very good quad Lutz. Next was a good sequence of quad toe loop, Euler and triple Salchow. The triple Axel came very good as well. In the second half he added another quad Salchow and another quad toe loop in outstanding quality, plus a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop. His spins were fast and had level 4, his step sequence a level 3, and his choreographic sequence was outstanding with seven GOEs of +5. His components were around 9.6 with one 10.0 for performance. 224.92 points only for the free program was a new world record as well.
Later the 20-year-old athlete said: “I’m extremely happy with the score and I was happy that finally this season I was able to lay down two pretty solid, relatively clean programs. The quad loop is scary. Props to Yuzu for trying that. I’ve done it in the past but it’s a scary jump. Salchow is a clean edge jump but the fact that you’re so off axis in the loop just really scares me and I’m so afraid of hitting the boot. I’m happy that the Salchow is back and will just try to maintain it for the rest of the season. I got pretty gassed at the end of my program so I guess I need to work on my stamina a little bit.“
Two time Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the silver medal with 291.43 points. He began his short program to “Otonal“ by Raul di Blasio with a stellar quad Salchow, followed by his best jump, the triple Axel (six GOEs of +5). But then he stumbled on his quad toe loop and could not add a second jump, which cost him 13 or 14 points. The spins were excellent, the step sequence outstanding and the components around 9.5.
He said: “This program was performed by Johnny Weir here and he got second place (in the Short Program) at the (2006) Olympic Games. I wanted a good performance as well. I am a little disappointed. Also, the point gap between me and Nathan is a little big, so it will be hard to come back. It feels the same alone compared to having my coaches here. Brian (Orser) is very busy with other competitions and skaters, and Ghislain (Briand) has some problem coming to the country. It was my first time by myself but it feels pretty much the same.“
There were wild rumors why he had come without any coach. Was there a conflict between him and Orser because Hanyu insisted to perform the quad Lutz and even trained the quad Axel which Orser did not want because of the risk of a new injury? He fell on this quad Axel in Torino several times in practice. Finally he himself and others said that Hanyu decided to come with his second coach Ghislain Briand. But Briand’s passport disappeared or was stolen on the flight from Toronto to Munich. Therefore the Munich border control did not let him enter Germany and board the plane from Munich to Torino. The coach had to fly back to Toronto, get a new passport and came back only for the free skate.
In this free program to "Art on Ice“ and on his 25th birthday, Hanyu began with a very good quad loop, followed by a good quad Lutz. One quad Salchow and two quad toe loops followed, the first one in a sequence with an Euler and an under-rotated triple flip. As last jump element he had planned a sequence of two triple Axels. But he was so exhausted after five quads that he could perform only one single Axel and admitted that practicing the quad Axel confused him for the triple Axel. This mistake cost him around 20 points. Spins and steps were very good, but not outstanding and his components had an average of 9.4.
After having dedicated his program to Evgeni Plushenko and using his music from the 2006 Olympics in the same rink, he commented: “I think Evgeni would not be really satisfied with my program. I’m really satisfied that I could land the clean quad Lutz in my program. I took the decision to do five quads yesterday because I probably couldn’t win and so I wanted to accomplish something at this competition. So I decided to do the quad Lutz and the quad loop and I’m very happy I managed to accomplish my goal this time. To be honest I wanted to do the quad Axel as well. I also felt the connection with the audience. I’m satisfied with the first half of the program but regret about the second half. I was so tired in the end that I wasn’t able to hang on to the ending pose. Nathan (Chen) makes me stronger and makes it more fun to skate.”
Kevin Aymoz from France won a surprising bronze medal in his first Final, earning 275.63 points. He did not get nervous when they played the wrong music for his short program first, but was fully concentrated when the correct music, “The Question of Y,“ by Prince came. Performing in an extremely entertaining way, he started with a good quad toe loop and a combination of triple Lutz and triple toe loop. His triple Axel was excellent, the spins as well, but the highlight was his authentic step sequence in which imitated Prince and had two GOEs of +5. As usual, he and his U.S. coach Silvia Fontana, who had skated at the 2006 Olympics in this very rink, became very emotional afterwards. He said: “The Grand Prix Final was not my goal for this season and so I was not stressed, I was just happy to be here and I just had fun. I was so confident when I went out but then when the music did not play I felt so lonely standing there on the ice. But when the music did start I forgot totally and it was just a pleasure to share.“
Aymoz opened his free program to “Lighthouse” by Patrick Watson with a very good combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop, followed by a fall on the second quad toe loop. Five triple jumps were at least good, one was under-rotated. But his interpretation and impression were excellent and therefore he had components of around 9.0. “It was a great experience to be here. I never imagined to be next to these two guys. I’m going to keep working this way for the Europeans trying to keep this dynamism. I want to put another quad in now.“
The three other skaters made several mistakes. Alexander Samarin is fourth with 248.83 points. He stepped out of the quad Lutz and almost fell, then he overturned the quad flip, which was under-rotated, and could add only a shaky double toe loop. The rest was good. In the free program, he began with a combination of quad Lutz and triple toe loop without much flow after the landing. Then he stepped out of the first quad toe loop and turned the second planned quad into a double one. Two triple Axels and two more triples were very good.
Boyang Jin from China finished on fifth place with 241.44 points. Instead of a quad Lutz in the short, he performed a triple one which he landed forward and his combination of quad toe loop and triple toe loop was shaky. In the free, he landed a quad toe loop, but fell on two more quads.
Dmitri Aliev from St. Petersburg ended up sixth with only 220.04 points. His short program was solid and convincing with quad Lutz, but after a very good quad Lutz, his free program turned into a disaster with six serious mistakes. He refused to give any comment.