Boston (AFP) - Japan’s 2014 Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu is poised to take back the crown he handed over to Javier Fernandez a year ago after a brilliant performance Wednesday at the World Figure Skating Championships.
Hanyu came into the 2016 championships as the gold medal favorite given the jaw-dropping record scores he set earlier this season.
In the opening short programme he more than met expectations and the crowd at Boston’s TD Garden roared their approval at the end of his seemingly flawless skate.
On a night when archrivals Fernandez, of Spain, and Canadian Patrick Chan failed to stay upright, Hanyu reeled off a quadruple salchow and quad toe-triple toe loop combination, then sailed through his triple Axel in an intricately choreographed programme set to Chopin.
The Japanese earned 110.56 points to establish a commanding lead ahead of Fernandez (98.52) and Chan (94.84) going into Friday’s final.
"I was pretty nervous today, different than usual. It's hard to explain but I felt a little unsettled in my mind," Hanyu said.
"I was still able to pull out a good performance at the biggest competition of the season, so I am pretty happy."
Fernandez, performing appropriately enough to Malaguena played on Spanish guitar, opened strongly with his own quad toe-triple combination but later crashed on his quad salchow attempt.
"I felt great, but I guess on the (salchow) landing I was lacking a little bit on the balance. I tried not to give any points away on the steps or the spins," Fernandez said.
"Having two quads is difficult. When we decided to do that we knew it was more risk to make mistakes in this programme," added Fernandez who trains with Hanyu in Toronto under the direction of coach Brian Orser.
The three-time European champion noted he will try not to make mistakes in Friday's final free skate given that his training mate is already 10 points ahead.
Chan, back in the mix after an 18-month competition hiatus, also hit a beautiful quad-triple combo but fell on his often problematic triple Axel.
Still, he said he was pleased with his Mack the Knife programme and called his top-three short programme result "a huge achievement."
"I felt happy getting off the ice. Part of it was because I was relieved and there was a lot of pressure that I haven't been familiar with for two seasons, so getting back into it is different," Chan said.
Chan won his third consecutive world title in 2013 which was the last time he competed at the world championships.
Japan's 2015 world junior champ Shoma Uno and China's silver medalist Jin Boyang performed admirably in their first senior world meet, ranking fourth and fifth behind the big guns.
- French duo lead ice dance -
On the strength of his solid quad toe-loop and triple Axel, Uno put 90.74 points on the board, while Jin scored 89.86 thanks to his now trademark quad lutz.
The Chinese also executed a quad toe but the landings of both jumps lacked total control.
The 2016 men’s title will be decided Friday.
Earlier Wednesday, ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron hit all the right notes to stake their claim to a second consecutive world title.
With a personal best score of 76.29 points for their short dance, the French couple topped the leaderboard ahead of two American and two Canadian couples.
Siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani are second (74.70), while compatriots, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, last year's world silver medalists, stand third (72.46).
The dance final goes Thursday following the women's short programme opener.