Nathan Chen retains World Championship crown in Saitama
Nathan Chen has done it again!
The American set a new free skate world record to defend his world figure skating title as double Olympic champion and home favourite Yuzuru Hanyu took silver.
Performing to "Land of All" by Woodkid, Chen delivered a phenomenal free skate on Saturday to build on his dominant display in the short program, cementing his status as ‘quad king’. He landed four of them cleanly, scoring a towering 216.02 and a total of 323.42.
The packed Saitama Super Arena crowd were treated to back-to-back delights as Hanyu had set a season’s highest free skate score moments earlier with 206.10 to finish with 300.97.
It was a triumphant night for US skaters. Vincent Zhou landed three quads in a clean program to launch himself onto the podium from fourth place with a season’s best score of 186.99 and a season's best total of 281.16.
"This competition went awesome," said Chen. "As soon as I stepped on the ice, I felt that energy already there. Hanyu has been pushing the sport making the sport so enjoyable, so competitive, and that definitely made me so much better of a skater."
"It’s an amazing feeling to be up here with these two guys. I’m proud of myself for being able to put out two pretty strong programs. I hope to have more experiences like this."
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Chen delivers under pressure
It was a redemptive program for Hanyu, back in competition for the first time after suffering an ankle injury at Rostelecom Cup in November, after he trailed to Chen in Thursday’s short. Chen could barely warm-up due to the trademark fan-thrown Winnie the Poohs on the ice.
But Chen was not fazed, and became the first U.S. skater to win back-to-back world titles since Scott Hamilton did so four times, from 1981 - 1984.
"It's always an honour to be able to skate with Yuzuru Hanyu, and to skate after him is an even greater honour," said the Californian.
"This is my third time being in this arena, I came earlier in the season and didn't have the greatest skate, and to be able to come here and put the skate out that I did today, thank you so much for supporting me."
Nathan Chen: How changing the sport is about more than a ‘quad’
Hanyu had to overcome a 12.53-point deficit to beat Chen. And the Japanese superstar enraptured his legion of fans, executing a great program in his first competition after a four-month injury layoff. Hanyu landed four quads and threw down the gauntlet despite under-rotating on a Salchow.
He pumped his fist at the end of his free skate as dozens of flower bouquets and Winnie the Poohs rained down from the stands.
It took several minutes to clear the ice before the competition could continue but once again Chen showed what he is made of, delivering a stellar performance under pressure.
It was their first head-to-head competition since the PyeongChang Olympic Games.
Hanyu said at the press conference, the home fans gave him a boost, but he is unhappy with himself.
"For me because this competition was going to be held in japan, I really feel that the audience gave me extra strength," he said, adding: "I am disappointed with the result, somewhat, of being in second place."
"I would like to evolve further in many different aspects."
Bronze for Zhou
Zhou was the first to skate in the final group. Performing to the Crouching Tiger/Hidden Dragon soundtrack, he under-rotated twice but still managed a season's best total.
"That felt incredible, everything just came together today. The jumps, the performance, and to have the opportunity to do all that on such a big stage and in front of such a huge supportive audience is just incredible," Zhou told the Olympic Channel.
"I'm really proud of myself, the effort that I put in, the focus that I put in, staying in my own bubble."