Nathan Chen dominates season as Hanyu Yuzuru makes history

Relive the highlights of the men's figure skating season: Chen was unbeaten in the 2019-20 campaign while Hanyu went back to his Olympic routines to complete a career 'Super Slam'
By Rory Jiwani

The 2019-20 figure skating season ended early with the cancellation of the World Championships in Montreal due to Coronavirus measures.

It means Nathan Chen was denied the chance to go for a hat-trick of world titles having gone the whole campaign unbeaten.

But who would have been his main rival in Montreal?

Uno Shoma defeated Hanyu Yuzuru to retain his Japanese national title in December, prompting the double Olympic champion to revert to his routines from PyeongChang 2018.

Hanyu duly won the Four Continents in Seoul, becoming the first male singles skater to complete a career 'Super Slam' of all major junior and senior titles.

While Chen was undoubtedly top dog, there is a new fearless crop of skaters led by Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games champion Kagiyama Yuma who already look ready to make their mark in the senior ranks.

Rocketman Chen takes off

With Hanyu missing most of the second half of 2018-19 through injury before returning to take silver behind Chen at the World Championships in Saitama, all eyes were on how the two would match up in the new season.

The Japanese opted to persevere with his 'Otonal' and 'Origin' programs and, after winning the Autumn Classic International, said he wanted to perfect the latter by landing a quad Axel.

In October's free skate-only Japan Open without Hanyu, Chen unveiled his 'Rocketman' routine to songs from the Elton John biopic and gave a glimpse of what was to come.

Despite having to juggle training with his second-year studies at Yale University, the 20-year-old won his third straight Skate America title in Las Vegas.

Hanyu went even better at Skate Canada, producing his best free skate and combined totals since the new judging system was introduced in July 2018 with his winning score of 322.59 less than a point shy of Chen's world record set in Saitama.

Chen won his second successive Internationaux de France title but the main story of Grenoble was Uno's disappointing free skate which left him down in eighth place.

The Olympic silver medallist had split with his long-term coaches at the end of the previous season and attended a summer camp in Moscow with Eteri Tutberidze, the woman behind Alina Zagitova and the '3A' who dominated ladies' singles events this campaign.

Uno was still without a full-time coach in Grenoble, but things improved when he started working informally with Turin 2006 silver medallist Stephane Lambiel.

Fourth place in the Rostelecom Cup meant he would miss out on the Grand Prix Final, but a permanent arrangement with Lambiel would bear fruit later in the season.

Hanyu made it two out of two in the NHK Trophy, avoiding the injuries which had marred his second Grand Prix assignment in the previous two seasons, to set up that mouthwatering clash with Chen in the Grand Prix Final in Turin.

The result was all but decided in the short program where Hanyu was without coaches Brian Orser and Ghislain Briand due to travel difficulties.

The American went first of the big two with his skate to 'La Boheme' yielding a personal best score of 110.38.

Hanyu was going well until his final jumping element when he missed the first part of his quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination and was unable to attempt the second jump.

That cost him valuable points to leave him on 97.43, just ahead of the season's surprise package Kevin Aymoz.

With 13 points to make up after Briand's arrival in Turin, Hanyu packed his free skate with quads.

On his 25th birthday, he landed all five but the effort left him able to only perform the first half of a triple Axel-triple Axel combo before almost collapsing on his end pose.

That only served to spur Chen to greater heights as he also landed five quads in a scintillating skate, eclipsing his free skate world record from March by eight points and his total best by almost 13.

His victory margin was over 43 points with Aymoz taking bronze.

2019 Grand Prix Final men's podium (L-R): Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen, Kevin Aymoz

Frenchman Aymoz had long impressed with the emotion and choreography of his performances, not least in his short program to Prince's 'The Question of U'.

But being able to land a quad toe loop saw him become a contender sooner than even he had hoped although his season ended in disappointment as he failed to qualify for the free skate at the European Championships, an event won by Russia's Dmitri Aliev.

Back to the big two who had only words of reverence and appreciation for each other in Turin.

Chen called Hanyu “this icon that I always look up to” while Hanyu pointed to his rival as “my motivation for skating”.

Uno's revival, Kagiyama's arrival

Also in Turin, the Junior Grand Prix Final went to Japanese Sato Shun with compatriot Kagiyama Yuma only fourth.

Kagiyama, the son of Olympic figure skater Kagiyama Masakazu, was the better known of the two having beaten Sato comfortably in the Japanese juniors.

But the 16-year-old showed what he could do at the Japanese nationals a fortnight later where he took on the seniors in Tokyo.

Most of the attention was on Hanyu in his first nationals for four years, and he topped the leaderboard after a superb short program.

Uno was second, five points behind, with Kagiyama down in seventh place.

It was all change in the free skate as a third competition in the space of a month took its toll on Hanyu who landed just one of his four attempted quads.

He actually finished third in the free skate with Kagiyama, who had gone out with “nothing to lose” taking second on the day for third overall.

For Uno, it was a welcome return to form and – while his free skate was not his best – he could celebrate a fourth straight national title and a first with Hanyu in the field.

"Stephane helped me to bring back the joy to my everyday training. I wanted to skate well for him, and go to battle with him on my team.” - Shoma Uno thanks Stephane Lambiel after Japanese nationals triumph

2019/20 All Japan Figure Skating Champs men's podium (L-R): Hanyu Yuzuru (silver), Uno Shoma (gold), Kagiyama Yuma (bronze)

Hanyu history, juniors shine

Just three weeks later after making the podium in Tokyo, Kagiyama was back among the juniors at the Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games.

He faced a formidable Russian challenge in Lausanne and was only third behind Andrei Mozalev and Daniil Samsonov after the short program.

But a spectacular free skate saw him take gold ahead of the Russian duo.

After Chen shrugged off the effects of a cold to claim his fourth consecutive US national title, attention switched to Seoul and the Four Continents in early February.

With Uno choosing to skip the event, Hanyu had the chance to become the first male skater to complete a full set of major junior and senior titles.

Days before the event, his program details on the ISU site changed from 'Otonal' and 'Origin' to Chopin's 'Ballade No.1' and 'Seimei', his gold medal-winning routines from PyeongChang.

On arrival in Korea, Hanyu confirmed the switch saying, "Currently, I can skate my best to Seimei and Ballade No.1."

With Jin Boyang, training partner Jason Brown and Kagiyama leading the opposition, Hanyu delivered in the short program by beating his own world record with a score of 111.82.

Jin was second ahead of Brown with Kagiyama setting a new personal best in fifth place.

The Chinese missed out on the podium after struggling with his quad jumps in the free skate, but Brown - previously better known for his artistry than jumping - pulled off two triple Axels in a big career-best performance.

That was enough for second place behind Hanyu who made jumping errors which left his combined score below the magic 300-point mark.

Kagiyama took the last spot on the podium with another career-best skate featuring two quad toe loops, one in combination, to well and truly announce his arrival on the world stage.

Kagiyama's busy season and, as it turned out, the season as a whole ended at the World Juniors in Tallin, Estonia at the start of March.

The Japanese actually led perennial rival Mozalev after the short program, but two big errors in his free skate - an under-rotated quad toe loop and triple Axel - cost him dear.

Mozalev then delivered a largely clean skate to finally win a major international event, going one better than his runner-up finishes at the Grand Prix Final and Youth Olympic Games.

With Mozalev and Kagiyama now stepping up to senior competition, next season's Grand Prix looks one to savour with thoughts already turning towards the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.