Hanyu Yuzuru leads after short program at world champs; Nathan Chen sits in third

Hanyu brought the house down with his short, while Chen fell on his opening jump. Youth Olympic Games gold medallist Kagiyama Yuma impressed in his worlds debut, placing second.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

Hanyu Yuzuru would like a third - and charming - world title to his name.

The two-time Olympic and world champion from Japan was in scintillating form on Thursday, hitting a 106.98 on the day to earn a comfortable lead in an afternoon of inspiring men's singles skating at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Stockholm, Sweden.

Two-time and reigning world champ Nathan Chen fell on his opening jump, a quadruple Lutz. He's in third place with a score of 98.85.

Kagiyama Yuma, the 17-year-old from Japan who was the 2020 Youth Olympic Games champion, wowed in his senior worlds debut, hitting the triple-digit mark with a 100.96, delighting his coach and father, two-time Olympian, Masakazu.

Worlds marks the first time that Hanyu and Chen are meeting in 16 months, since the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin. Chen won there - and the American hasn't lost in nine consecutive international events since the 2018 Olympic Games.

Hanyu will take an eight-point advantage over Chen into the free skate, set for Saturday afternoon local time. Hanyu is looking for his first world title since 2017.

Chen's fall was his first in competition since the Grand Prix Final in 2018, some 120 jumps, according to NBC Sports.

The quality, however, was clear in the men's event through the top seven and beyond: 2018 world bronze medallist Mikhail Kolyada is fourth with a 93.52, Canada's Keegan Messing fifth behind a 93.51, 2018 Olympic silver medallist Uno Shoma sixth (92.62) and American Jason Brown seventh (91.25).

2019 world bronze medallist Vincent Zhou had a nightmare short program, falling twice in three jumping passes and sinking to a 70.51 score. He failed to make the free skate cut of the top 24 skaters.

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Hanyu soars in short while Chen struggles

After showing strong skating at Japanese nationals in December, Hanyu picked up where he left off, showing an even stronger short program with trusted coach Brian Orser at the boards, whom he had barely seen in the past year, often training alone in Japan.

Hanyu was in scintillating form: He hit a quad Salchow to open, then a quad toeloop-triple toe combination, and then a triple Axel in perfect synchronization with his "Let Me Entertain You" music. His 47.96 in program components (artistry) was top among the men, too.

Hanyu will go into the free skate to try to add to his world titles from 2014 and 2017.

"I was more relaxed compared to nationals (but) I was more focused and more nervous, too," Hanyu told reporters. "This is worlds after all. All skaters are going to bring out their best skating. I knew that I had to skate my best, which is what I wanted to achieve."

"I don’t think there’s a superlative that could ever be too much when talking about Hanyu," Sochi 2014 ice dance champion Meryl Davis told Olympic Channel. "When exceptional talent meets extraordinary work ethic, along with unimaginable focus and commitment, only then are we mere mortals lucky enough to witness the likes of an athlete like Hanyu."

Chen was disappointed but not regretful about his short program, saying that he will only try and "learn from my mistakes" moving forward. He has a quad Lutz included in his free skate, as well, which he said he will not remove.

"You sort of lose your rhythm" after a fall, Chen explained. "In a clean program, the rest of the program goes on autopilot, but after a fall you have to analyse quickly."

He recovered with a triple Axel and quad flip-triple toe combo, which earned him 19.86 points - the most of any combination on the day.

Memorable short: Kagiyama soars on debut

It was a memorable men's short program - with many skaters competing for the first time at a major international event in over a year.

It was a first world championships at the senior level for Kagiyama, who has gone from strength to strength over the last 14 months since his YOG triumph, winning senior medals at Four Continents, the Japanese Grand Prix and Japanese nationals.

"I thought coming into the World Championships, I'd be nervous and tense. But it turned out I wasn't that nervous," he told reporters after his program. "Rather than being nervous, I was looking forward to skating and performing on the rink.

"I was able to do everything as I did at the practice," he continued. "So I was glad. My score was 100. So there is nothing to say there and I am very happy. And before and after my performance, I spoke with my father. And before going onto the rink we said, 'We came this far. So let's make sure we'll not regret anything.'"

Kagiyama is looking to become the youngest men's medallist at worlds since - Hanyu, in 2012.

The day was an embarrassment of riches in men's skating, with a resurgent Kolyada and a sublime Messing just five points back from Chen, the two separated by just 0.01 points. Uno could have been higher if not for a fall on his triple Axel, a mistake that cost him around five points.

There was no quad for Brown (though he's planning a quad Salchow in the free), but his "Sinnerman" short program is breathtaking. "Perhaps one of best choreographed pieces in skating history," commentator Mark Hanretty offered on the World Feed.

Added Meryl Davis: "The energy, the artistry, the charisma... pure Jason Brown. While Jason’s technical content isn’t on the same level as some of the other top men, he brings much to the ice that is so beautifully and uniquely Jason. Very special."

Redemption was the recipe cooked up by France's Kevin Aymoz, who delivered a delightfully energetic short program, saving his triple Axel and scoring a 88.24. He's in ninth.

The last time Aymoz competed was at Europeans in 2020, where he had a disaster short program and failed to make the free.

"I'm really happy with what I did because I took my revenge over the European Championships," he said after his skate. "I'm not really happy with the scores, but I messed things up in the program, so those are fair. I've got to fight in the free skate to stay in the top ten."

And in eighth place is Cha Junhwan, the Korean, who also had a fine day at the office, and explained after that he sent skating videos back and forth to coaches Orser and Tracy Wilson while at home during the pandemic for feedback.