Nathan Chen is ever thus: calmer than a pool. And focused like a laser beam, although he doesn’t look it.
He won his third consecutive world title with explosive point totals on Saturday. He had come to Stockholm, grateful to be there. He had shaken off his woolly lockdown curls, shrugged off a hiccup in the short program (well, actually a major hiccup: he fell on a quad Lutz combo), and showed up for the free, full of quiet dynamite, so sneaky undercover beneath his brows, you didn’t see it until he started to skate.
What he did was epic.
Third after the short program, 8.13 points behind Olympic champion and rock star Yuzuru Hanyu, Chen set to work. That quad Lutz he fell afoul of in the short? This time, he delivered, with 3.94 bonus points. A whopping 15.44 points in the first few seconds. Somebody heard a sizzle through the Phillip Glass tunes.
Then came an enormously difficult quad flip – triple toe loop, worth 15.20 without bonuses. Chen rumbled through that without a hitch, like Wyatt Earp stomping into town, spurs jangling, and with 2.99 bonuses, he snared 18.19 points.
And so it went: five quads in all, precisely done, two of them done late in the program as jump combos or series, wracking up points like nobody in this event did.
How could we fail to mention a quad Salchow that got 3.19 bonus points? And just when the point values went up 10 per cent in the second half, he did an incredible quad toe loop – Euler – triple flip. No probs. Another 19.13 points went onto the sheet. Right afterwards, he lined up for a quad toe loop – triple toe loop.
All in all, he earned 125.89 points for his technical content alone, which upped his free skate score to 222.03. He was the sun, that burned the eyes of others. Chen’s technical mark was higher than the entire free skate mark of Boyang Jin, a former world medalist who unfortunately had a disastrous week and finished 22nd. (And Han Yan, finishing 13th, just missed being able to qualify two men for the Beijing Games. Now there will be only one. To get two, he needed to be 12th .)
Overall, Chen earned a total of 320.88 points, 29.11 points ahead of silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama, who is only 17, and 31.70 points ahead of Hanyu, who took the bronze medal.
Chen’s coach Rafael Arutunian, shook his water bottle to frizz.
Hanyu skated last, after Chen, but his beginning moments were rocky. He had led after the short program with a brilliant performance, but he put a hand down on his opening quad loop, then flipped out of a quad Salchow that was a quarter turn short of rotation. He also got negative GOE on a triple Axel that was to be part of a triple-double combo.
Hanyu did pull himself together later, landing a quad toe loop – triple toe loop combination and a quad toe loop – Euler – triple Salchow series, but he stepped out of a triple Axel, which set up a repeated element thing, because he had failed to do an earlier Axel in combination. None of Hanyu’s GOE marks were soaring, as he’s used to. He actually finished fourth in the free, behind Kagiyama and Shoma Uno, who ended up fourth overall. During the pandemic, Hanyu has been training alone in Japan with only zoom meetings with coach Brian Orser.
Hanyu said it was all very exhausting, and not all was right with the world in his body. “I tried to make sure that I didn’t fall, so I did work hard to make sure I kept it together,” he said. “I realized that there were a lot of jumps one after another that were not clean.
“Overall, I wasn’t feeling that bad. And in the practice, it wasn’t that bad either. But all of a sudden, going into my program, my balance started to crumble. That’s the sense that I got. Maybe yes, practicing the quad Axel might have had some effect, but other than that, it’s more like I was losing balance one by one. And I couldn’t bring back the right equilibrium and maybe the axis was a little bit off.
Having said all of that, it’s not a major issue.” And yes, he is practicing a quad Axel for next year.
Chen said afterward he was elated. (A calm sort of elated.) “I just tried to remind myself to enjoy being here,” he said. “The fact that I don’t know how many more world championships I’ll be able to compete in…I tried to embrace this moment and remember that. It’s such a cool experience for me to be here. I’m really lucky and I tried to remind myself of that. “
Kagiyama jumped up and down with glee out of his seat when he saw his marks: 190.81 for the free, 291.77 overall. He was the 2020 world junior silver medalist and Youth Olympic champion and “just thinking of the worlds makes me nervous,” he said.
When he ended up in the final group, it made him more nervous. “I started to wonder whether I should be here or not,” he said. “But as soon as I realized I was here representing Japan, I knew I had to get the job done. So I was very focused.”
Kagiyama landed four quads in the free sometimes from difficult entries. He made mistakes on lesser jumps. So deft was he that former world pair champion Eric Radford opined that this kid could someday do a quintuple toe loop.
With this event, Japan has qualified three men (Japanese men finished second and third), to the Olympics in 11 months, and so has the United States and Russia. However, both United States and Russia will have to send a man to Nebelhorn to confirm the third entry under new IOC rules of qualifying.
Canada, France, South Korea and Italy may both send two. But Canada, France and South Korea need to send a man to Nebelhorn to confirm that second spot.
For Canada, Keegan Messing was the sole competitor. And he had one overriding goal: to qualify two men for the Beijing Olympics next year. It was a huge responsibility to carry. He needed to finish in the top 10. And he did, with a sixth place finish, only a couple of points behind Russian Mikhail Kolyada, another who lives in facial restraint, but always tidy and classy.
His boot tops swathed in duct tape, and Canada red socks underneath, Messing got the job done. The 29-year-old from Alaska, using his program from last year to “November Rain”, Messing let fly a quad toe loop – double toe loop combo and then a sole quad toe loop. Everything glided along until he stepped out of a triple Axel and then doubled a triple flip. Still his marks of 176.75 for the free and 270.26 overall, put him in sixth place.
Messing had the eighth highest technical marks and the sixth highest component marks, ahead of Kagiyama and almost on a par with Shoma Uno. Keegan was rated second to only Chen in spins.
Messing said he would accomplish his mission with the help of bestie Nam Nguyen, who didn’t get the spot for the world championships, but will go to World Team Trophy in Osaka next month. “I said before I came here than Nam and I are going to do it together, going out there and together we did it,” Messing said. “He was there with me backstage, on the ice, and gave me the strength that I needed to push this program. I couldn’t have done it without him. So thankful to have such a good buddy to have there with me.”
He admitted his mission was “a heavy burden,” but he tried to ignore the nerves.
He says when he returns home to Alaska, he will focus on the baby that he and wife Lane are expecting in July and will build him a crib. “I’m so overjoyed,” he said. “My wife has been sending the pictures and videos of her belly moving. I’ve been keeping my hopes high here and as much as I say thanks to Nam, I have to say thank you to my wife and my unborn child. It’s the most wonderful feeling and I can’t believe my world will turn upside down. It’s going to be wonderful.”
The other highlight of the event – it goes without saying – was Jason Brown, who ended up eighth in the free and seventh overall. And he landed his first quad Salchow in competition – although judges deemed it under-rotated, although not downgraded.
The quad has been his nemesis, rarely landed or landed cleanly. At U.S. nationals, he fell on a quad toe loop. At 2020 Four Continents, he doubled it. Jumps have never been his strong point: everything else he does is unmatched in the world.
“There were tears of relief, joy” he said. “It was a huge goal of mine. Just as you are not shy asking about the quad, I’m not shy telling you how much I want it. I’m drilling it as much as I can.
“This year, I was talking to Tracy [Wilson] about everything being cancelled and an opportunity. Last season my quads were getting stronger. The pre-Olympic year is a great time to do that and we didn’t have that opportunity [until now]. I rotated. I’m getting closer.”
Brown will return o the United States to spend some time with his family, and depending on travel restrictions, he’d like to return to Toronto in May.
During the free on Saturday, Brown did do a triple Axel – double toe loop, then stepped out of a subsequent triple Axel. There were few ripples in his performance. He finished the free with 170.92 points and his overall total was 262.17.
Although he had the 11th highest technical mark, his components were deemed third-best behind Chen and Hanyu.