Fernandez: skate of a lifetime


Yuzuru Hanyu doesn’t live in a normal world.

On Saturday night, after the men’s free program, Japanese fans waited and waited for a chance to see their fallen hero, who had squandered a 12-point lead after the men’s short – to win the silver medal, not the gold.

No matter. Well past midnight, the Japanese fans gathered at the TD Garden tunnel where the athlete buses churn to and fro. Because of Hanyu’s rock star status and all that goes with it, he had his very own shuttle, a large bus with an entourage and a burly security guard. He’s Justin Bieber on skates.

The fans were waiting at the other end of the trip, at the hotel, too. And as the bus chugged up, the fans ran. Hanyu raced past them, eyes straight ahead. Protected.

After demolishing world records left and right all season, Hanyu has been viewed as somewhat of a skating god. He indeed has a set of scary-good talents. So when he chalked up that mighty lead, (some say the largest of any discipline in world championship history,) others may have been thinking about fighting a separate contest, with Hanyu in a league all his own.

But in the bright lights of the “Gahden,” chock full of fans up to the rafters, things changed in a hurry. It wasn’t Hanyu’s night. Nor was it Patrick Chan’s night. Nor Maxim Kovtun’s. Nor Shoma Uno’s. Nor Denis Ten’s. And neither Han Yan nor former world No. 5 Nam Nguyen even made it to the long-program round.

The last two groups rocked the place. Max Aaron, former U.S. champion landed a dynamic quad Salchow-triple toe loop to finish up with 172.86 for the free, and 254.14 overall, to finish eighth. Standing ovation.

U.S. champion Adam Rippon was a new Adam Rippon this year, having shaken off all that hobbled him in the past. He was fitter than he’s ever been. More confident. Last summer he told Jeff Buttle he wanted music that would lead him to win the U.S. title and to fly at worlds in Boston, at home.

Buttle picked “Blackbird,” the Beatles song that goes:

Blackbird singing in the dead of night.
Take these sunken eyes and learn to see
All your life
You were only waiting for this moment to be free.

Rippon said later that he actually heard those words as he competed Saturday night. He went for the gusto early, for that pesky quad Lutz that has always eluded him and in the free program, he landed it on one foot, although it was underrotated. He knew it was. “But I kept going,” he said.

He said before he went out, he felt like taking a nap. “Just let your training kick in,” said coach Rafael Arutunian. Rippon felt very nervous. He was shaky in his warmup. “I fought through everything but at the same time, I tried to have the best time ever and I did.” He finished fourth in the free skate with 178.72 points, ahead of Chan. Thunderous standing ovation.

A third U.S. man, Grant Hochstein, a replacement for the injured Nathan Chen, also sparkled and finished ninth with 162.44 points. He landed a quad toe loop and as he went on, continuing to land more and more jumps, the crowd roar started. He had a hand down on a triple Axel. The crowd was on its feet before he finished.

This meant that the host United States had placed three men in the top 10. But their sixth (Rippon overall), eighth (Aaron) and tenth (Hochstein) meant that the country fell one point short of getting three men to the Olympic qualifying world championships next year. Rippon had finished only 2.31 points behind Chan. Of course, the hubbub started that Chan was overmarked, having snared a perfect 10 from a judge for interpretation.

In component marks, Fernandez led the way with 98.36 points, with Chan second (92.60), Hanyu third (92.02), Shoma Uno fourth (86.58), Rippon fifth (85.64), and exciting Russian newbie Mikhail Kolyada sixth (84.64.) Should Rippon have had higher components? Possibly? Should Uno have had lower?(He skates a lot on two feet). Perhaps. (And Boyang Jin getting 76.14 for components? He hasn’t developed this side of himself much at all.)

Technically, Chan bumbled and fumbled on ice he said didn’t match his unique way of going. Instead of his opening quad toe –triple toe loop combo, he eked out a triple toe loop. He did get the triple Axel in. He landed his next quad and gallantly tried to put a triple toe loop on the end of it, but he was close to the boards and stepped out of it. His second triple Axel combo turned into a single Axel – double toe loop. He doubled a flip. Points bled away, heavily. He was only eleventh best technically on the night (79.31).

Let’s have a fun look at the technical virtuosos. Fernandez of course, led with a stunning 118.05 points followed by: Jin, second (104.99 – after stepping out of his quad Lutz, landing a quad Salchow, holding on for dear life to a quad toe that was supposed to be in combination, but wasn’t, and bravely tacking a double toe loop onto his fourth quad, a toe loop), Kolyada, third (93.67), Hanyu fourth (93.59), Aaron fifth (93.16), Rippon sixth (93.08), Shoma Uno seventh (87.93), Grant Hochstein eighth, believe it or not (85.02), Alexei Bychenko of Israel, ninth (82.57) and Michal Brezina, tenth (81.12).

The judges’ panel for the long program included no Russians, no Canadians or Americans. The panel was Europe heavy, with officials from Sweden, Israel, Italy, Germany, France and Ukraine and also South Korea and Kazakhstan.

The doors came off the competition when Hanyu, second to skate in the final group, put a hand down on his opening quad. There was an intake of breath. Then he fell on his third quad, the Salchow in combo with a double toe loop. It was called a repeated jump because he didn’t do it in combination, so that was worth only 4.09, a very costly fall. (Fernandez’s quad Salchow-triple toe loop was worth 14.80 before GOE was applied.) Then he singled a triple Salchow at the end of a triple Axel series. He put a hand down on a triple Lutz. It was so unlike Hanyu, except when you recall his Olympic free skate. He had opened the door wide for Chan in Sochi. And Chan didn’t take it. Just the same as he didn’t take it in Boston.

Hanyu choked down the news of getting only 184. 61 for his free, which is 34.87 points short of his world record (219.48) and he ended up with 295.17 overall, 35.26 lower than that record, too (330.43.)

Coach Brian Orser said he was expecting at least a repeat of the Grand Prix Final when Hanyu set his most recent world records. And he’d upped the technical content a little by doing two quads Salchows and a quad toe loop instead of two quad toes and one quad Salchow.

“I thought we would see the usual from Yuzu, which would be just about everything,” Orser said. “I was a little bit surprised because he was in a little bit better shape than what we saw. He’s very disappointed.”

Hanyu was a little nervous before he skated, and he was slow getting to his starting position, taking almost the entire allotted 30 seconds. His warmup was good but “not out of this world,” Orser said.

But then, Hanyu is always nervous, Orser added. Orser sensed Hanyu’s nervousness at an early practice, but it’s not unusual.

“There’s not one particular thing that went wrong with Yuzu,” Orser said.

“I can’t explain my feelings,”Hanyu said. But he’s regretful.

“I am really sad, and I am really happy for Javi’s program. I know I am happy [for him] but I am really sorry for my long. I want to do it again.

Hanyu said he felt calm before the free skate, but that he hasn’t hit the sweet spot and the balance between mental and physical condition. Throughout his performance, he admitted he was nervous.

Then came Fernandez and the performance of the ages. Perhaps one of the best clutch performances of all time. Reminiscent of Donald Jackson at the 1962 world championship in Prague, where he was considerably behind after compulsory figures. Jackson had to be perfect to win and he delivered a string of 6.0s and the first triple Lutz in competition history.

Fernandez, perhaps one of the most under-the-radar world champions since his victory last year, had his own troubles to worry about. A month before Boston, he developed a bursa on the heel of his right foot – his landing foot. It’s an annoying, painful, ugly goose egg thing caused by friction.

Fernandez had taken 24 hours off when it first caused him trouble and when he returned, it was fine.

But not forever. It flared up again. Fernandez tried the same treatment, a little Advil and rest, but it didn’t help.

“When he bends his ankle, it pushes the heel back and it hurts,” Orser said.

Fernandez took a day off practice on Thursday. But at Friday morning practice, he skated little. He spent his time fiddling with the boot, to no avail, trying all sorts of last-minute things. Fernandez started to panic. Orser said his face began to turn white.

“Okay, now we need to get some medical attention,” Orser said. “And I need to talk him through it.”

So the afternoon of the men’s final, Fernandez spent hours with the event’s medical team, who gave him a pad to place in his boot and treated the problem. “It kind of occupied him and he was getting lots of attention, which he likes,” Orser said with a smile.

It all shortened the wait. “You can sit in the hotel room and just awful-ize the situation about where it’s going to hurt,” Orser said. Eventually, Fernandez went back to the hotel, took a nap, had dinner and then it was time to head to the rink. Orser also persuaded him that his best long program runthoughs came on Mondays, after he took the weekend off. He framed it positively.

Fernandez said he didn’t think about how important it was for him to win. “I just kept going from jump to jump,” he said. He did three marvelous quads. He sold the program. He was charming.

“It was not an easy day,” he said later. “It was not an easy month.” He knew that he had to do the best skate in his life to defeat Hanyu. He told himself that it was the last competition of the season. That helped him through.

Gracious in victory, gracious in defeat, Fernandez gave credit to Orser for his victory. “Brian is the person with us every single day,” he said. “It doesn’t matter if we are in a good mood or a bad mood, or if we do a good practice or a terrible practice – he is the person that is helping you no matter what. They [the coaches] want you to be better every single day.

“I saw that Yuzuru was training every day to be the world champion and not every time you can do what you’re planning to do. “

He said he does not know how he was able to overcome his heel problem and win. ‘I think sometimes we feel so strong that it doesn’t matter what happened before,” Fernandez said. He hadn’t known how Hanyu had skated.

Chan skated last, but just like at Four Continents, he encountered ice that did not suit his stroking style. He was the last skater of 12, with no ice resurfacing and a couple of six-minute warmups.

“I feel really stupid for talking about it,” Chan said “But the ice just wasn’t to my favourite specifications.”

He said the ice appeared white and frosty, with no shine or slip. The ruts were a serious issue. “I couldn’t be confident when I stepped forward to get my edge that the edge would go straight,” he said. The blade would skip and jump over a bump.

Chan said he needed to use the flex in the ice to get his movement over it. In a perfect world “it almost rebounds me and gives me speed into my jumps.”

It wasn’t a good day for Chan but he’s happy to be back. It’s not often anymore that skaters see fans in seats up to the rafters in a NHL-sized rink. The sound poured off a warm crowd.

Still, “it stinks to be fifth,” Chan said.

Meanwhile back in the green room, where skaters sit after they skate, Fernandez said to a crestfallen Hanyu: “It’s okay Yuzu. You still have lots of time to beat me.”

Fernandez has now won two world championships. Hanyu has won only one, but he’s the 2014 Olympic champion. They are about even and will watch each other at the same rink in Toronto every day.

For now, Chan is on the outside looking in. But he knew it was a tall task to defeat the entire field in his first season back.

5 thoughts on “Fernandez: skate of a lifetime

  1. Beverly, If you told me 2 yrs ago that Javier would win the next two World Champioships I would never have believed it.
    Yuzu simply handed this years World title to Javier on a plate.
    I’ve never known a sport where so much winning takes place by default.
    Would Boyang have even won the Bronze if Patrick Chan hadn’t put in such a clumsy performance?
    It’s a mystery why the biggest skating event (The Worlds) doesn’t have a warm up tournament and so the skaters go in cold, unlike the end of the Grand Prix season (The Finals) when they all peak.
    I’ve championed Yuzu with my blog posts (first on The Beauty Hunter blogspot and then on the Beauty Hunter2) since he was 16, before anyone virtually noticed him on tumblr.
    Naturally I did a scathing blog post on his failure to win his 2nd World title last week.
    I think even Javier must be baffled at the outcome. After all, after Yuzu’s disastrous show then all Javier had to do was stay on his feet to win.
    Sport can often be very cruel.

  2. The truth of the matter is that these men are doing programs that are such high risk, that it’s easy to make a wrong step. And one mistake can multiply. Hanyu has done this on several occasions. He has let go on the free skate (Sochi Olympics, Skate Canada in Lethbridge, worlds) and of course we are now hearing that he is being treated for an injury. Chan is coming back after a season off and didn’t really expect to get a medal here, (until he finished third in the SP, and then he got excited.)

    The best part of the event was what Fernandez did with the cards that were dealt him. I watched him at the practice the morning of the free skate, and he was near panic, and hardly skated at all. And to go from that practice to what he did later in the day was incredible. Orser managed the situation brilliantly. So much of success is mindset. And there couldn’t be a more gracious winner than Javi. He is a very popular, humble world champion.

  3. Your considerration is everything bull shit all of it.Hanyu,he is Japanes hero do not misunderstand.Resently he established new figure sports Era from NHK torophy to GP final new world super record(over330poins).Futhermore he is major 3 titles holder Champion,accordingly only Hanyu carried it out in this world at present, accordingly his pride,effot etc. against wrong commet nobody can not say anything at all.

    • I’m afraid I don’t understand your comment at all. My point in the story is about the fact that he’s a Japanese hero and it’s difficult for him because of the huge interest in him. There is no disputing his world records and I did not do that. He did lose that event in Boston, however. My comments weren’t wrong. I’m sure he’ll be back and pushing world records again.

  4. Beverly, I was thinking how so very short the Skating Grand Prix Season is.
    When you look how the long the World Formula One Racing season is, it seems to grow annually with yet another country taking part. Do you think that the Skating Grand Prix series could grow, with yet more countries taking part? It would be wonderful if London could be on the ISU Grand Prix map. But for London to be part of it all I suppose we need a big UK skater to be on the scene, and we’ve had no one since Robin Cousins and Torville and Dean.

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