2017 Worlds: the illustrated story of the men’s event

Three-year distance from his first gold medal at Worlds, Yuzuru Hanyu got crowned again – in the presence of thousands of fans and their loud enthusiasm in Hartwall Arena in Helsinki. It was sheer joy for Shoma Uno (and his admirers) as well: the 19-year-old captured the silver medal in grand style, erasing the disappointment of his first Worlds last year, when he finished the competition in tears – while China’s Boyang Jin, happy, smiling, energetic, repeated as a World bronze medalist. This is the story of their presence in Helsinki, the story of the overall men’s event at the 107th edition of the Worlds. Be warned though: this illustrated journey into the ups and downs of the event features no less than 150 pictures. Yes, you got that right: 150. So make sure you have more than enough time ahead of you.

by Florentina Tone/Helsinki

Group 4 (out of the six of the men’s SP) is about to start in Hartwall Arena – on Thursday, March 30, in the afternoon – and the lower side of the media tribune gets to be enriched with this famous Japanese skater now turned into journalist: Daisuke Takahashi. One of Japan’s three representatives in the men’s event, Keiji Tanaka, will take the ice later on in this group, and so the group of commentators for Fuji TV, Mr. Takahashi among them, is ready to provide useful, significant information to the viewers in Japan.

Latvia’s Deniss Vasiljevs is welcomed with a big round of applause – half for him, and maybe the other half for the supportive coach sitting with him at the boards: Stéphane Lambiel. And this particular short program at Worlds, to “Voodoo Child” by Stevie Ray Vaughan, may just well be the best I’ve seen him skate: Deniss is exhaling power, freedom, enthusiasm and joy, taking you with him in his journey, and the audience responds beautifully. He’ll say later in the mixed zone: “My goal for this competition is to bring joy to people who come to watch us, and make them love figure skating even more”. Mission accomplished, I would say.

Technically, this isn’t Jorik Hendrickx’s best performance, but artistry-wise, he’s definitely one of the best in the men’s event at the moment. Parts of his routine to “Broken Vow” – Josh Groban’s voice accompanies Jorik beautifully – are a joy to the eyes: the movements of his arms, the sensibility, the music flowing through him. Not everyone can do that and, in spite of the technical misses here and there, this is such a good moment in Hartwall Arena.

Keiji Tanaka exits from backstage, getting ready to take the ice, and a Japanese cameraman runs to lift the TV camera from a chair, not to miss anything from the skater’s preparation. In the Fuji TV’s studio, improvised literally across the boards, the commentators put their headphones on: they’ll most certainly need to attentively follow the routine, and describe in details what they see.

And, as many other colleagues in the media tribune, I would very much like to know what Mr. Takahashi thinks: he used to skate to “Primavera Porteña (Spring in Buenos Aires)” by Astor Piazzolla, Keiji’s music for the short program, not to mention he also worked a bit on postures, gestures, with this skater. But Keiji falls on his opening quad, puts a hand down at combination, and the overall routine looks a bit negligent. The nerves got to him, he’d say minutes later in the mixed zone: “Before the start I didn’t feel so much pressure, but when the program started I became nervous, which influenced my jumps. It’s a pity that I couldn’t make my personal best for the short program in this beautiful rink”.

At 15:44, Misha Ge takes the ice – he’s the last one in group 4 – and watching him skate to „Liebestraum” by Franz Liszt is a joy for the senses: he has such a softness of movement, and his overall presence on the ice impresses the viewer through its carefulness, refinement, attention to details. He’s wearing mauve, sweet mauve – just like Mao Asada in her „Liebestraum” a couple of years ago – and I’m sold, completely sold. At the end of the performance, he rests, his left knee on the ice, while receiving a standing ovation. „Misha, spasiba!”, someone shouts. True words: such a beautiful, delicate skate. An emotional Misha will state in the mixed zone: „It may have been my last skate [last SP]. For every athlete, if they think it’s going to be their last performance, they want to do their absolute best”.

Ready for the quad fest? Boyang Jin and Nathan Chen both feature group 5, which is about to start. It’s 16:08 – and I’m happy to take everything in.

When Mikhail Kolyada steps on to the ice, my colleague, Kristina, moves into the stands: she wants to cheer for Mikhail, Russian flag included, and you’re not really supposed to do that in the media tribune. And Kolyada skates an absolute blinder, a really great program to “Nightingale Tango” and “John Grey”, telling a story – he’s good at telling stories this young man – and I just can’t get enough of this routine, with loads of energy and joy. The triple Lutz looks easy as pie – he does work on his quad Lutz at home – and a sea of Russian flags accompanies him while exiting the ice. Thumbs up in the Kiss and Cry, and a great start of Worlds for this talented man who scores 93.28 points (one of the nine skaters to receive more than 90 points for the short program in Helsinki). Minutes later in the mixed zone: „It felt good skating today, I just tried to bring back all the best memories from last year’s World Championship. I like to compete in Finland, it feels almost like home, and the audience is fantastic”.

Ladies and gentlemen, here comes the Spiderman! And, as the Spiderman, Boyang Jin is so incredibly good at jumping: when executing his trademark quad Lutz-triple Toe just under the nose of the Japanese commentators near the boards, you almost get the feel they pull themselves in the back, to avoid contact. Because Boyang is literally flying – that’s, maybe, the best way to describe his short program at Worlds – and, apart from his flawless technique, he also manages to throw an imaginary web over the audience in Hartwall Arena. He does a shoulder-thing in front of the first rows, a cheeky, flirtatious move near the boards, and people go nuts. And there are so many eye-catching, pleasing moves in his routine, and he’s having so much fun that you just can’t resist being carried away with the enthusiasm of it; even here, in the media tribune, where everyone is usually so very serious. Boyang heads to the Kiss and Cry after taking the plushy-Spiderman from a flower girl, and goes shooting into the lead, with 98.64 points; and I would have given him over 100, since this routine was really much more than the jumping part of it.

This is such a Nikolai Morozov routine, I can’t help but thinking while watching Denis Ten’s short program in Helsinki, to „Romeo and Juliet” by Sergei Prokofiev. Not the classical version, as you would think, but more like a hip-hop one, so very intriguing, so very interesting. I’m definitely caught up in the story, I could watch it again and again, and the step sequence is something else. A program that is rather dark, suiting Denis Ten like a glove and receiving 90.18 points in return. My fingers write for themselves: This is a great edition of the World Championships, or what?!

And here comes the quad king: this young man, Nathan Chen, has quads at his little finger. The media tribune is now officially full, including some representatives of the US media in a corner of the last row. There’s this incredible noise in the arena, and, apparently, Nathan just can’t handle the infernal rhythm of his routine until the end, and falls on his triple Axel; and that’s so unfortunate after brilliantly landing a quad Lutz-triple Toe and a quad Flip. But there’s so much to admire in Nathan, and this short program, to music from „Le Corsaire” by Adolphe Adam, really emphasizes his strengths. But you do get the feel his legs start to shake at a certain point, and that he rushes the routine. Still: his step sequence is one of the most beautiful things of this men’s event – you can really see the ballet training in him, you do. With 97.33 points, he goes into second place for the moment. He’ll say in the mixed zone: “This is probably the most nervous I’ve been going into a competition this season, but it’s great to get used to it and have this experience”.

Israel’s Alexei Bychenko pulls a great routine, to “Chambermaid Swing” by Parov Stelar, worthy of the 2016 European silver medalist; he truly is a wonderful representative of Europe at these Worlds, and he’ll later state in the mixed zone: “My personal goal is to get into the top 10. And our main goal as a team is to get 2 spots for the Olympics”. * And then there’s the lovely choice of music for Michal Březina’s short program, “The Way You Look Tonight” – but the overall routine is rather rough around the edges; Michal isn’t happy, and Rafael Arutyunyan isn’t happy either. People in the arena sing “Happy Birthday”: Michal turns 27 on the day of men’s SP.

It’s 16:53, and there’s still one more group to come, can you believe it?

On the ice already, Yuzuru Hanyu has his jacket on and he barely sits – he wants to move, to run away even from being introduced to the audience. Shoma Uno looks beautiful in that flowing blue shirt – and he smiles when stopping in midair, in the middle of a jump. Jason Brown is really the embodiment of joy: he takes it all in, and he starts the 6-minute warm-up by spinning and twirling in the centre of the rink. Javier Fernández gets huge encouragement from the crowd when he’s announced, Patrick Chan looks so very serious, while Maxim Kovtun doesn’t have a good practice at all, talking to judges and pressing his left knee – at times, you feel he might not skate at all.

Yuzuru Hanyu will be the first to take the ice in this final group. And so comes the ritual: shaking Brian Orser’s hand, patting Pooh on its yellow, fluffy head, pushing his arms against the boards and heading for the centre of the rink, for the so-appropriate “Dearly beloved, we are gathered here today…”

…to experience some goosebumps.

Feverish faces behind colourful, meaningful banners, behind Japanese flags, thousands of fans are in for act one of Yuzuru Hanyu’s presence at 2017 Worlds. And so are we, in the media tribune. And since this is such an eye-catching routine, you can only have the time to write down, in a rush, one or two things, to later help you recompose the electric atmosphere of those 2 minutes and 50 seconds.

Yuzuru’s inviting arms into the program. His nonchalance while going for the quad Loop, the flight – a purple, sparkling spinning top in the air of Hartwall Arena, and then the easiness of the spread eagle. The shoulders moving rhythmically to Prince’s music. The noise. The screaming voices. The glitch on the quad Sal, and the attempted recovery, arms above his head. A triple Axel like no other. And the complete madness of the final minute. Yuzuru’s palms around his mouth, imitating a shout, comes as an invite for the fans – and so people in the arena start to shout, accompanying the step sequence, the spins and the guitar. Turning a program into a memory.

At the end of it, someone writes on twitter: “Forecast: Pooh-bears”.

But under the Pooh-bears, when the euphoria is over, Yuzuru Hanyu looks rather down. Making little steps to the boards – where Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson await and let him be: he knows he’d left some good points on the table. But he also knows he gave it all, performance wise. “I was just happy to skate today”, he’ll later say behind the curtains. “Maybe not all jumps were so great, but I so much enjoyed skating”. With 98.39 points he’ll be 5th at the end of the day.

While Yuzuru Hanyu had gone to the centre of ice, to start his program, Shoma Uno sat on a chair near the boards, taping his boots. He had spent almost all Yuzuru’s routine in that point, jumping and drinking water handed to him by coach Mihoko Higuchi. Once the invasion of Poohs disappears from the ice, in large, plastic bags, Shoma Uno steps onto the white surface for his own routine, to “Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra” – music from the movie “Ladies in Lavender”.

And there is the openness, the buttery skate, and the aura – and there’s Shoma Uno totally giving himself to the music. “Pure perfection”, I write on twitter seconds after the performance, and I stand by my description. In his bubble of concentration, Shoma Uno delivers two beautiful quads, one in combination and his now trademark quadruple Flip, and he almost needs to stop the flight of his too energetic triple Axel to be able to perfectly land it. But the atmosphere of the overall performance is the one that stands in people’s minds – and he just can’t hide his enthusiasm for such a good routine: you see it, you sense it when he plunges his right arm, his right fist in the air the second the music stops. With 104.86 points, a seasons best, he goes into the lead, with four skaters to follow.

And the feeling of joy, of gratitude will make him generous with his words in the mixed zone: “In earlier competitions I have had issues with the jet lag, so I flew to Finland a week before the competition, and now I had no jet lag problems – and if I made any mistakes that would be caused by doubts in my mind. Today, from the beginning to the end I was very calm, and I am happy to be able to make a new personal best, and it’s great to see that my scores are getting higher and higher every time. But, most of all, I am happy to be able to skate my best performance. Last year, I was very disappointed at the World Championships and it ended with tears. But the experience and the failure taught me a lot. So my goal for the free program is to finish the competition with a happy smile”.

When Maxim Kovtun finished the warm-up, you didn’t know whether he’d skate or not. But he does show up when his time comes, and he does fight for every element in his routine, starting it with no less than a quad Salchow-triple Toe. Later in the mixed zone, he’ll evaluate the fall in the warm-up, the thoughts and the performance: „Frankly speaking, I don’t remember how I fell and what happened – I actually came up to my coach, asking if she saw how it happened, and I told the judges that we will decide with my team whether I skate or not. It was quite painful during the warm-up, but during the performance I wasn’t feeling anything. This is sport, you should be ready for anything. I had a mistake on my second quad and I’m quite upset about it, because I was feeling very well in the air and something happened with my landing. In general I can say that I’m happy, because I could fight”.

And when the World Champion en titre takes the ice, the Spaniard Javier Fernández, the noise goes through the roof. People love this young man, this talented and very modest champion, and Javier is taking us all in Al Andalus. Such a masterpiece of a short program, a jewel choreographed by Antonio Najarro to “Malagueña” – a program that has been Javier’s ally for two seasons already. So much power and character – and apart from a slightly moving spin, everything else was absolutely flawless: the champion delivered, and the audience rewarded him. And so did the judges: 109.05 points for the Spaniard, a new season’s best – and the overnight lead (and I surely don’t spoil the fun – the denouement of the men’s SP is, of course, known since the end of March).

At the end of the day, Javier will say simply: “I do believe in the consecutive third gold and I will fight for it, but there are so many talented skaters now. They will try to jump on top of my score and take my title. I am really happy to earn such a score, the best one in my career – I think only Yuzy got a higher score once. I also felt the force of the crowd here in Helsinki, and I got a very good connection with it”.

What does Patrick Chan do? Well, he takes the glove the others threw, and puts it in his hand, as if it were his. That good his short program is, to “Dear Prudence” and “Blackbird” by The Beatles. And you know that already: Patrick’s skating is balm for the soul. And you don’t even need to believe me – just go and re-watch his program, tens of times, on youtube. In Hartwall Arena in Helsinki, people are mesmerized by his performance, and so am I. His score, 102.13 points, a new seasons best, makes him enthusiastic as well: “It was the first time I broke 100 points in an international event, I have only done it at Nationals before. It’s exciting to know that there is the possibility of the score. I’m competing against men who do two quads in the short, and (despite) not having two quads in the short passing 100 points is exactly where I want to be”.

This is too balm for the soul, my fingers write after Jason Brown’s short program to “Writing’s on the Wall”. And Jason gets a standing ovation after a performance giving you the chills. There’s so much beauty in his skating – and a proof art can be thrilling. And that you don’t need four revolutions to make a heart beat. Jason receives 93.10 points, and he’s thrilled, you can tell: “I feel great! I put my heart and soul out into that performance. Skating last was so exciting and nerve wracking – after such incredible skates before me – it really pumped me up and I wanted to go out there and perform the way I knew I could and so I’m really proud of that”.

At the end of the day, a thought: I’m so, so grateful for this event at Worlds. So far, the quality of everything is just amazing. You can translate that in the number of 10s given throughout the afternoon: Javier received 11 of them, Patrick – 5, Yuzuru – 2. Plus: three people scored over 100 points, and nine (out of 36) scored more than 90 points.

Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno – glimpses from the small medal ceremony after SP and draw for the free skate

Javier Fernández is leading after SP…

…while Shoma Uno sits in second place

The intermediate podium after men’s SP – Shoma, Javier and Patrick, posing for the photographers in the press room

Drawing a lucky number for the free skate

Top 3 after men’s SP

Read more: The battle of the hundreds: the men’s short program at 2017 Worlds

Men’s free skate – the stories of the day

As I enter the arena – on April 1st, on Saturday – I get to see Michael Christian Martinez doing a beautiful spread eagle, one of his specialties; this young man from the Philippines is opening the ball, on the day of the free skate.

Performing a program called “The Battle of Life and Death”, Jorik Hendricks doesn’t have a good day – the artistry is one of his fortes, you can see it, but the overall performance fails to qualify him directly for the PyeongChang Olympics. He will be thrilled for his sister though – with her programs in Helsinki, Loena has the Olympic spot under her belt – but he’d have to fight for it in Nebelhorn Trophy, in late September (we all know now he got it after all – so that’s another reason to enjoy even more these photos from 2017 Worlds).

And then there’s another imaginary line connecting Keiji Tanaka to Daisuke Takahashi, who’s commentating the event for Fuji TV: Keiji is skating to iconic music by Nino Rota from Federico Fellini’s movies – and Nino Rota’s music accompanied Mr. Takahashi in Vancouver, when he won the first Olympic medal in the men’s figure skating for Japan. And that’s a different face of Keiji from two days before: a joyful, playful routine, and a final thought when leaving the ice – “What I learned from this experience is that it’s very important to have a good short program. For the next season I want to do my best to get a place for the Winter Olympics by using all the experiences I have gained during this season”. *

Many people might have checked again the name of this young man from Malaysia at the end of a lights-out routine, that set the crowd on fire: Julian Zhi Jie Yee nailed almost every jump he tried, and he did that with enthusiasm and character; and once his arsenal of jumps will include a quad or two, he’ll definitely climb the rankings. For now, he won some people’s hearts – which is not something to minimize in only his second Worlds. * Georgia’s Moris Kvitelashvili is attempting three quads (what a courageous routine), and does that with wonderful acting qualities. He looks happy, Moris, and in the mixed zone he’ll speak beautifully (and frankly) about one of training mates: “I was asked who my idol is, and I can probably say that it is Evgenia [Medvedeva]”. Two days earlier, he’d provided some context for it: “She is incredibly strong, stronger than the men, and working so hard. If we do our program once, she does ten times as much. She sets a very good example”.

At 11:47, second group is on the ice – and that’s already a great group, if I may.

Knowing this may be Misha Ge’s last skate makes you emotional. Makes him emotional. And his performance to „The Nutcracker” will surely remain as one of the most beautiful, softest moments of the men’s event in Helsinki. In the end, he kneels and kisses the ice – such a heartwarming image – followed by a truly felt standing ovation. In the mixed zone he’ll be all bubbly and euphoric: „I don’t have words to tell how happy I am. The Olympics was a really happy moment for me, and the Shanghai World Championship too – but this one was something different, something special. A lot of fans and people know that this could be my last competition, so for my last performance to skate like this it’s pure happiness for an athlete”.

Lucky for us, Misha gave himself one more season – but his presence at 2017 Worlds was marvelous.

One thing is sure: Deniss Vasiljevs has a huge capital of sympathy among the figure skating fans – and this was so obvious at this year’s edition of Worlds. And I’ll surely remember the opening pose of his free skate in Helsinki: the birds are singing, and Deniss is nervous, you can tell, swallowing an imaginary lump in his throat.

The triple Axel is still his nemesis – the first one is rather cautious, the second one is down –, he might be losing speed here and there, but his overall performance to “The Four Seasons” is a beauty, and he surely gets the job done; once he finishes, you start doing calculations: he’d be 15th in the worst case scenario, so that means he just qualified a spot for Latvia in the men’s event at the Olympics (he’ll actually finish 14th). He’ll realize that by himself in the mixed zone: “I qualified for the Olympics and I’m super happy about it! I really enjoyed my skating and the audience is fantastic, I enjoyed it so much. I think it was a good season for me, and I’ll move forward”.

A flirtatious, playful look into the camera before he starts – Brendan Kerry is skating to “Pirates of the Caribbean”, and his programs in Helsinki just qualified an Australian spot for the Olympics (Brendan is 15th overall) * …while Maxim Kovtun sticks his tongue out after turning his second quad into a double – he’s a in better mood than two days before, while performing to “Iron Sky”, and fights until the very end – he’ll finish on the 11th place overall.

As Pagliacci, Alexei Bychenko performs for a wonderful cause: getting two spots at the Olympics for Israel. And though the free skate is so and so, as he personally describes it by nodding his head while exiting the ice, he’ll be finding himself on the 10th place overall at the end of the day. And so he’s done it – and both him and Daniel Samohin can be at the Olympics next year; a face-off between teammates has been avoided – and that’s good for the Olympics as well, since two great skaters will be in PyeongChang.

There are no less than four quads in Kevin Reynolds’ skate to “Grand Piano” – and the final spin is so beautifully set on the accents of music. But TES start dropping due to many under-rotations – and Kevin finds himself on the 9th place overall in Helsinki.

A chorus of “Davai!” accompanies Mikhail Kolyada’s entrance on the ice and, from where I stand, I see people wearing the Russian flag as a coat, on their shoulders, until the end of Mikhail’s routine to “Le rêve de la fiancée” and “À la lune”. And, as in Ostrava, at the Europeans, he falls on the quad Lutz – the jump is still a work in progress – and singles the first attempted triple Axel. There are glitches here and there throughout the routine, but his jumping technique is absolutely marvelous. Being 4th last year in Boston, the 8th place in Helsinki comes as a disappointment for Mikhail, but there’s still plenty of room for him to grow; and a podium at Worlds doesn’t actually seem that far.

“I hope I can move people to tears. It’s a very meaningful program to me, and I skate it with all my heart. I hope I can reach out to the audience and give them a performance they can remember forever”. That’s what Jason Brown had said, two days before, about his free skate, set to music from the movie “The Piano”. And his actual performance on the day of the free skate in Helsinki is exactly as he’d envisioned it, exactly as he’d wanted it: beautiful and quiet and serene – all in all, a bubble of emotions. For 4 minutes and a half, I am there, with him, my eyes glued – and I love every second of this free skate. He is lacking the quad – he attempted one, but fell – but who cares, anyway? This is butter, this is softness, this is essence of skating – and I would much rather watch this kind of performance than just a pure demonstration of athleticism. An immense joy from top to finish, and thousands of people in the arena thought the same – have you seen, have you lived the standing ovation?

A grateful Jason will talk about it in the mixed zone: “Regarding the performance aspect, I gave it my absolute all. The crowd was absolutely incredible and I tried to perform to them the entire time”. He’ll finish the event on the 7th place – and there will be talking about Jason in the press conference room later that day. Asked about his plans for the Olympic season – other quads, overall strategy –, the 2017 World champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, will say simply: “I don’t know yet. I’m pretty sure everyone will try out all sorts of different kind of things. After the short program here we all know that Jason Brown did quite well without a quad, and that he was able to put himself in a pretty good position. So that really proved us that quads are not everything in figure skating”.

These aren’t Denis Ten’s Worlds. And, overall, a season the 2014 Olympic bronze medalist would want to forget. His free skate to music from “Tosca” – one of Denis’ favorite pieces of music – is incredibly difficult to watch: the program looks empty, most of his jumps are also missing. Not his best day, not his best week – Denis will finish the free skate on the 20th place, and he’ll be 16th overall. Looking at the Olympics, he seems confident though: “The Olympic Games are magic and always full of surprises”.

At 13:58, the final group is on the ice.

Kiira Korpi, commentating the event for a Finnish TV, evaluates men’s planned program content

And, as during the short, Yuzuru Hanyu will be the first to go. And what follows is joy for the senses – with Yuzuru skating as if he were a beautiful haze in the forest, a breeze between the leaves. And even if one doesn’t know the story of the program, he’ll still perceive the lightness of it, the softness, the continuum: “To focus for today’s performance I imagined myself somewhere at the river, I thought about nature”.

A performance that draws you into it. So different from the Prince routine, and yet so easily addictive: “My free program music is rather quiet, it’s not the type of music that makes people excited too much, but I could hear the audience cheer for me. Especially in the last part, after the spin to the end, I was able to hear how everyone applauded”.

The Ina Bauer and then the final jump, the Lutz. The burst of joy, excitement – he’s done it, a perfect program – and his face in the ending pose, saying it all.

And then the roar. The flying gifts. The utter frenzy.

The girl that cries, fists pressing against her cheeks. The one that keeps throwing little toys from a bag. The one that mumbles over and over again, a big smile on her face: “Arigato! Arigato!”

As if no one can believe they have seen what they’ve just seen.

And when the scores show up, and it’s a World record for the free skate, Yuzuru Hanyu plunges his arms in the air with the little power he has left, and he seems like he’s about to cry. 223.20 points and 321.59 overall. Will someone out of the five remaining be able to surpass this?

First to attempt is Nathan Chen, lying in 6th place after the short. He has been having some boot-issues for the last couple of days, the US media brought the detail into everyone’s attention – so Nathan looks rather tentative and cautious in the warm-up, and the routine starts with a fall on the quadruple Lutz. Five more quads are lined up in the free skate – some good, some bad – and the overall feel is that Nathan himself looks a bit tangled in such a big routine, with such a big content, to such a big music: Alexander Borodin’s “Polovtsian Dances” ask for 100% commitment from the skater, any skater – and Nathan Chen does give his all; but his all is hurried and a bit rough around the edges.

With 193.39 points, and 290.72 overall, he sits in second place now – and he’ll be harsh with himself in the mixed zone (but he’ll also see some good in his performance): “I don’t feel very good about it, honestly, I’m not going to lie. This wasn’t the program I wanted to perform. I tried a very difficult program today (six quad attempts, landing four). I’m glad that, with the mistakes I made today, I’m still potentially competitive against these guys”. And, yes, performing right after Yuzuru “definitely was a little bit of a mind game – he skated amazing today”.

4th after the short program, China’s Boyang Jin skates to a classic: music from the movie “La Strada”, composed by Nino Rota. And he does it in style: four quads later, and a wonderful program overall, he’ll go shooting into the lead, with 204.94 points and 303.58 overall. And you have to raise an imaginary hat for his jumping abilities – Yuzuru Hanyu will do it himself in the press conference later on: “There is no doubt that Boyang pushed us all, because he did the quad Lutz and a clean performance – so people realized that we can do the quad Lutz, it is humanly possible. So he is responsible of pulling us all up to the level where we are today” – but you also need to acknowledge his artistry. He does enter the character of the music he skates to, Boyang – he’s the Spiderman in the short, the clown in the free – and he has made tremendous efforts over the last few years to bring the components to the level of his technical elements.

Of course, there are still things that need to be polished, refined – but Boyang Jin does have the overall package to work with, and so the future looks good for him. He’ll finish the second edition of Worlds on the third place – and that’s a great way to start a senior career. „Today’s performance was my best so far”, he’ll say in the mixed zone. But then „the most important is, I think, to be able to challenge. For me, I want to improve my levels and do more difficult jumps”.

It started as a great performance for Patrick Chan as well, with two quads, one in combination, and his inimitable style of skating. And apart from a couple misses here and there – including the faulty landing of his second quad Toe –, it remained a good program, one that Patrick seemed proud of in the end, and one that got him a standing ovation in Hartwall Arena in Helsinki: „I left the boards and my coaches and was challenging myself, not trying to beat someone or do more quads… Today, ending this season, a beautiful quad Sal better than the Toes I did – that’s a huge highlight. I am pretty happy, and this was the best long I’ve had all year, considering I rotated all my quads I had planned. We were competing at a very high level here at the Worlds, all the men are skating great. I can only do my best, the rest is up to the judges. I’m very happy with how this last event finished. All the work and all the preparations and my goals that I had coming into these Worlds, I achieved them. Maybe not 100%, but 90%. Today was preparation for next season”. With 193.03 points and 295.16 overall, Patrick finished 2017 Worlds on the 5th place.

And then there’s this young man lying in second place after the short, Japan’s Shoma Uno, who is skating to dark, intriguing music by Astor Piazolla: “Buenos Aires Hora Cero” and “Balada para un loco”. And he enters the mood of the program even before settling for the opening pose – have you seen those determined black eyes? – and then a fugitive smile tells you that this time he won’t finish the competition in tears, as last year in Boston.

There’s utter sharpness all along the first part of the routine, which features a quadruple Loop, a quadruple Flip, and also a stumble on the triple Lutz (and this right here might make him lose a potential World title), and there are people cheering for him already, accompanying the accents of the music. And Shoma mumbles “Piantao, piantao!”, and you can cut the intensity of the performance with a knife. Two more quads, a beauty of a combination: triple Axel-single Loop-triple Flip, and then a sudden burst of energy for the last tens of seconds of the routine: Shoma Uno is literally flying, recreating a corso de astronautas on the ice of Hartwall Arena. And then the combination spin, near the boards, which became his trademark already. And a joyful left arm in the air, and then both: he’s done it. He’s skated an almost perfect routine at Worlds. And so he’s happy in the Kiss and Cry, alongside coach Higuchi – happy and relieved: with 214.45 points and 319.31 overall, he goes into second place for the moment, only 2.28 points separating him from Yuzuru; in the green room, Yuzuru looks relieved as well: he’s just dodged a bullet.

In the mixed zone, Shoma Uno will do a short analysis of everything: “Yuzuru’s performance was perfect and I made some minor mistakes, so there is some room to catch up. But this was one of the best I’ve ever skated, so I’m quite happy about it. I’m very happy to have the best performance in the biggest competition of the season. I wanted to enjoy skating today and I was quite relaxed. In the last World Championships I failed, and I didn’t want it to happen again. Everything I’ve been going through since the 2016 Worlds brought me to this competition. The effort paid off and I’m happy to finish this season in a best way – I can’t ask for anything more”.

Entering his free skate to Elvis Presley medley, Javier Fernández has a 4.19 point-cushion over Shoma Uno, from the short (and an impressive 10.66 points over Yuzuru Hanyu). And heading for the centre of the ice and taking his opening pose, you sense there’s a lot going on in the mind of the World Champion en titre. Javier looks stressed and thoughtful, his eyes turned to himself – while people in the arena are already clapping and cheering; an enthusiastic welcome, worthy of a wonderful champion.

And worthy of a champion is the opening quad as well, the Toeloop – and you get the feeling he might even successfully attempt a quintuple, that good the quad is (getting +3 GOE from all judges). But then his legs start shaking, apparently – he just can’t get them to twirl properly at the end of the quad Salchow-triple Toe combination, and the second quad Salchow is down, much to everyone’s surprise. But he does embrace the character of the music, and keeps on moving – and the audience’s reaction to “Fever”, for example, is fantastic. In the second part of the routine, more than in the first, you sense the fatigue – you feel the skate has become, more or less, a fight with himself. And shrugging his shoulders right after the ending pose, Spanish flags in the bakground, he knows, you know, that’s not enough. Not even for the bronze. Brian Orser and Tracy Wilson wait for him with open arms – and the scores tell the story of a routine that just wasn’t of his caliber: 192.14 points, the 6th program of the day, and 301.19 overall. And a 4th place for Javier Fernández at 2017 Worlds.

But, hey, he’s human after all, the Spaniard, and in the mixed zone he’ll find the strength to say: “It’s fine”. And see the good in it: “You know, figure skating is a hard sport. We have to take this as a positive thing heading into the Olympic season. Maybe it means there won’t be so much pressure. I kind of knew how Yuzuru had skated and it added some pressure on me. I was a little bit more tight on the first elements and my legs were not as fresh as they used to be in training”.

And so the men’s podium in Helsinki looks like that: gold – Yuzuru Hanyu, silver – Shoma Uno, bronze – Boyang Jin.

…and the gold and silver medalists can’t refrain themselves from the now-famous “wedding joke” (those of you following Inside Skating for a while now know what this is about – a joyful ritual of Yuzuru and Shoma whenever they share a podium in competition).

Glimpses from the press conference, the true end of the men’s event in Helsinki.


#TheCave. My ode to practice rinks

Dearly beloved, we are gathered here to experience Yuzuru Hanyu’s greatness