So I figured I better write this review before the World Team Trophy . . .
Yuzuru Hanyu placed first overall with a total of 321.59 points to win his second world title in the most emphatic fashion, taking the podium by a storm by skating a phenomenal, world record-breaking long program after an inglorious fifth-place short program finish. I'm already waxed lyrical about the spellbinding experience of watching that performance live--click here for a refresher--so let's speak about the short program at Worlds. Despite the major loss of points due to the combination jump being invalidated because of the weight transfer between the salchow and the toe, I must say that Let's Go Crazy is also such a great, crowd-pleasing program to watch live. Look past the rather ludicrous purple-tinted costume and it's so easy to feel your jaw drop as Mr. Hanyu blazes through a series of ridiculously difficult transitions straight into a giant triple axel right in front of you. Ditto with how Mr. Hanyu throws himself into the step sequence with great speed and wild abandon before whipping the crowd into a frenzy with that slide towards the judges. All in all, a fantastic performance that did not let the mistake on the combination detract from the program.
Shoma Uno, in stark contrast to last year's valley of tears, was all bashful smiles as he placed a strong second place overall with a total of 319.31 by posting personal bests across the entire competition. Mr. Uno is such a dream to watch live--he skates with such extension and command despite being so physically tiny, and he moves to the music with real style and verve. The one thing that Mr. Uno has in spades is finesse--that element of stretch and awareness from his toes to his fingertips that allows him to internalize choreography and set a real mood on the ice with his body movement. That said, however, Mr. Uno's Ladies in Lavender short program this season is somewhat generic and does not allow him to showcase his sensational performance skills to maximum effect. His Astor Piazzolla tango long program, however, is a much more effective vehicle that allows Mr. Uno to display his intensity and passion to great effect. The way he moves his arms and head throughout--fantastic. Bonus points for using lesser-known Piazzolla tango pieces (i.e. anything but Libertango and Adios Nonino), and double bonus points for how the 3A-3T is perfectly placed within the music. Admittedly, the last minute of histrionic yelling in the music is a bit . . . much, but it's really a testament to Mr. Uno's performance abilities how he manages not to be completely overwhelmed by the maniacal verbal assault that would send lesser skaters running for the exits.
However, there is an elephant in the room that needs addressing here: Mr. Uno's extremely flawed jump technique. I love Mr. Uno's skating, but in the interests of fairness, it needs to be acknowledged that the amount of pre-rotation on some of his jumps is quite beyond the pale, as is the picking technique on his 4F. The tech panels and the judges have been merciful this season, but it'll be interesting to see if they do anything about it in the future. That said, unlike others, I don't think the failure to spot/penalize Mr. Uno's pre-rotation on his jumps is prima facie evidence of willful blindness, corruption, and/or a shadowy conspiracy orchestrating Mr. Uno's rise to the top. I just think that Mr. Uno's technical issues can be difficult to spot in real time, which is what the tech panels are restricted to using when scrutinizing a jump's takeoff (versus the slow-mo replay that is permissible on reviewing a jump's landing).
Boyang Jin, to the surprise of many, won the bronze medal with two clean skates, posting a personal best overall score of 303.58. After Mr. Jin's rather rocky competitive results this season--failing to qualify for the Grand Prix Final, placing off the podium at Four Continents--it's difficult to see this bronze medal as anything but an unalloyed triumph for Mr. Jin. I admit, I was one of those people who was mildly dismayed by Mr. Jin's bronze at Worlds last season--while a superior jumper, his programs were definitely of the skate-up-and-down-the-rink-and-jump variety, but Mr. Jin has clearly taken such criticisms to heart and worked on his presentation skills this season. For this season, Mr. Jin and his team have chosen to re-package Mr. Jin with a somewhat tongue-in-cheek, charm-through-humor approach with Spiderman and La Strada. And for the most part, I'd argue that this was a solid decision--I think Mr. Jin's range of body motion is still somewhat shallow and rather stiff, so it's best to leave those exalted, abstract, *deep* programs to the Hanyus and Unos of the world. But Mr. Jin's programs this season allows him to work his somewhat dorky demeanor and turn it into something charming, which is a definite improvement on last season. What's most important, however, is Mr. Jin clearly enjoys performing his Spiderman and La Strada programs, and when that joy is so apparent, the audience and the judges cannot help but respond to it. And so the PCS rise . . .
That said, one thing Mr. Jin really needs to work on is maintaining his performance quality through the entire program. This was especially in apparent in the La Strada long program--while Mr. Jin turned on the charm offensive during the steps and the posing sections, for instance, a lot of that went out the window as Mr. Jin prepared for his jumping passes. One thing Mr. Jin does not need to work on, however, is his 4Lz. That height and distance of that jump is +3 GOE good.
Javier Fernandez--despite scoring a hair over 300 points with a total of 301.19 points--finished a disappointing fourth place, thereby placing off the podium at a World Championships for the first time since 2013. Mr. Fernandez's third world title seemed handily in the bag after he posted a commanding first-place score of 109.05 in the short program, but ice is slippery indeed. Interestingly, Mr. Hanyu was in Mr. Fernandez's position last year in Boston, which would make for a great reality tv show storyline should there be a The Real Skaters of Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club show in the near future. Anyway, it was heartbreaking to see Mr. Fernandez stumble so badly in the long program after his rock-solid Malaguena short program, especially given that he needed to have the skate of his life in order to hold off Mr. Hanyu's record-breaking performance. To Mr. Fernandez's credit, he tried to sell his Elvis Presley medley program until the very end even through all the undoubtedly devastating mistakes on his jumps.
One would hope that this fourth-place finish would fire up Mr. Fernandez for the all-important Olympic season next year. Although Mr. Fernandez has previously stated that he didn't have plans to upgrade his current jump layout, I wonder if the fact that three prominent members of the current quads arms race finished above him at Worlds has caused Mr. Fernandez to have second thoughts about his more conservative strategy. Admittedly, Mr. Fernandez's decision not to upgrade his jump layout makes sense on a cost/benefit level (with factors such as the risk of injury and Mr. Fernandez's geriatric status relative to his peers probably at the forefront of such an analysis), but even if Mr. Fernandez finally decides to join the quads arm race by adding something like a 4Lo, is it too little, too late? The Olympic season is right around the corner, after all . . . .Whether or not Mr. Fernandez decides to join the quads arms race, the #1 thing I hope that he'll do next season is to get a long program that is somewhat more distinguishable from the same long program he's been skating for the past few seasons.
Patrick Chan scored a total 295.16 points to place fifth overall. Mr. Chan's fifth-place finish is truly a testament to how far men's figure skating has progressed over this Olympic cycle, given that Mr. Chan's set of performances at this World Championships are probably his best-ever performances at a World Championships (and would have handily won over all three of his previous world title-winning performances!), yet only placed fifth here. We observers of men's skating live in exciting times indeed. In the past, I've criticized Mr. Chan's presentation skills insofar as he skated through the music and failed to internalize the choreography enough to highlight or reflect the phrasing/tempo/mood/rhythm of his music. However, this season, for the first time since watching Mr. Chan skate for over a decade, I feel that Mr. Chan is finally listening to the music and performing his choreography with true conviction and depth of feeling in A Journey. Put simply, A Journey is the best long program of Mr. Chan's career and one of the best long programs of the season. It's unfortunate that Mr. Chan's presentation skills have only managed to improve to this extent in the twilight of his career when his chances of medaling at major championships have sharply diminished--I have a feeling that if Mr. Chan had been able to skate like this last Olympic cycle, there would probably have been far less sound and fury about his scores and placements.
Although Nathan Chen had been predicted by many to be the likely 2017 World Champion (or at the very least, a 2017 Worlds medalist) prior this event, Mr. Chen placed sixth overall with 290.72 points. Unfortunately boot problems and nerves derailed Mr. Chen's Worlds debut this year, although he did do more than enough to firmly establish his spot as a Top 6 skater in the men's division. Mr. Chen is currently a skater whose programs live or die depending on the state of his jumps, so when the jumps go haywire and that "OMG SIX QUADS!!!" feeling is absent, there's not much content to reward. Mr. Chen does have some potential outside of his quads--see, e.g., the short program--but it's disappointing how perfunctory everything outside the quads are in his Polovtsian Dances long program. One might hope that this sixth-place finish would spur Mr. Chen on to work on his non-jump elements and presentation skills more, but then again, maybe not--despite the poor performances in Helsinki, Mr. Chen's skate-up-and-down-the-rink-between-messily-landing-quads long program still netted him almost a fourth place in the long and almost 85 points in PCS.
Jason Brown placed a distant seventh place overall with a total of 269.57 points, which is basically the best result a quadless skater could hope for in this brave new world of quad lutzes, flips and loops. Mr. Brown skated two very fine performances at Worlds, with only a fall on the 4T< and a doubled loop marring his performances. I must say that I've begun to enjoy Mr. Brown's performances much more this season after he removed some of the more meaningless and superfluous transitions he used to do in his programs. His programs have fewer transitions now, but I'd argue that they have greater effect, since many of his old programs were so stuffed with meaningless transitions that they started to look like moves in the fields tests rather than cohesive programs. At Worlds, I particularly enjoyed Mr. Brown's long program to The Scent of Love, which was skated with wonderful flow and attention to detail throughout, particularly during that lovely moment when Mr. Brown does a spiral as the violins wells up to join the piano in the music. The Scent of Love is also an example of effective long program backloading--Mr. Brown's six jumping passes in the second half of the program are beautifully incorporated within the choreography and manage not to seem like a jumpfest.