Divine short blows Machida past field in SaitamaFernández lands second, Hanyu third; Abbott goes eighth, Aaron ninth
The men's short program at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships, held Wednesday at Saitama's Super Arena, had it all: big winners, a few losers, a lot of entertainment and an enthusiastic crowd of 18,000 spectators who applauded Japanese and international skaters alike.
The audience, comprised mostly of young women aged 16-35, seemed to save their longest and loudest cheers for long-time favorites like Tomáš Verner and Jeremy Abbott, both of whom have announced this is their final competition.
Skating at his first worlds, Japan's Tatsuki Machida was the evening's surprise winner with 98.21 points, 7.03 points more than his previous personal best, which he earned while winning 2013 Skate America. All of his elements were pristine, including a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and triple Axel that gained six +3 grades of execution (GOEs) from the judges. His three spins and step sequence, all of which rated Level 4, also gained high marks.
The 24-year-old skater, who placed a solid fifth in Sochi, interpreted Phillip Mills' choreography to East of Eden in a soft and elegant presentation. Although not an outgoing showman, the judges and public liked his style.
"This season is my best ever," Machida said. "I am very astonished about my high scores here. Phillip Mills, who created my short and free, is my choreographer and also my art director. Thank you so much, Phil.
"I could hear and feel the audience, there was a strong vibration," he continued. "This is my chance to get a medal in front of that kind of big audience."
Until last August, Machida trained in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., under Anthony Liu. When Liu closed that rink, the skater returned to Japan. He trains mainly in Osaka, where he attended university.
Two-time European champion Javier Fernández also performed flawlessly and sits second with 96.42 points. The Spaniard skated to "Satan takes a Holiday," music recommended by 1980 British Olympic champion Robin Cousins, who used it for one of his most famous professional programs.
Fernández hit an excellent quad Salchow, a brilliant triple Axel and a solid triple Lutz-triple toe loop combination. As usual, his great skate left him a bit speechless.
"It was a really good performance today," he said. "After Sochi, I did not want to train as hard any more, but then my coaches (Brian Orser, Tracy Wilson and choreographer Davis Wilson) motivated me to restart. Today, I am happy that they convinced me to train hard again."
Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu finds himself in third place after falling on an underrotated quad toe loop. Although the rest of his short to "Parisian Walkways" was strong, his 91.24 points is some 10 points less than his record-breaking short program score in Sochi.
"Needless to say, the toe loop wasn't good," Hanyu said. "Even though I made a mistake, I tried to recover the points by performing [good] point elements. Machida did well, and it made me feel my performance today was not good enough. Hopefully, I'll do a better performance the day after tomorrow."
Czech Tomáš Verner had planned to finish his competitive career in Sochi and go on tour through Europe with Evgeni Plushenko, but when Plushenko had to postpone his tour due to back surgery, Verner decided to compete one last time. Czech Republic had two spots, and only Verner and Michal Březina had the minimum technical score required for entry.
After skating a clean short, including a quad toe loop, and placing fourth with 89.08 points, he is certainly glad he made the trip.
"It is an unbelievable experience today," Verner said. "The 18,000 people stood up at the end. It was like a show in Japan, but so much better."
China's Han Yan also performed a clean program, which included a quad toe, and sits fifth.
Japan's Takahiko Kozuka, who was left off of the Sochi Olympic team in favor of the now-retired Daisuke Takahashi, is sixth with 85.54 points.
Russian champion Maxim Kovtun tried two quads in his short, hitting his Salchow and underrotating his toe loop. His other elements were clean, and he is seventh with 84.66 points.
The two U.S. skaters, Jeremy Abbott and Max Aaron, sit eighth and ninth, respectively.
Four-time U.S. champion Abbott, a special favorite with the Saitama crowd, fell on an opening underrotated quad toe loop but got up quickly and performed the rest of his stylish Pina program in a commanding manner. His triple Axel and triple Lutz-triple toe combination were solid, but the program's highlight was its ending step sequence, and he earned 79.76 points.
"I went out to such a warm reception, and it filled me with so much pride and excitement," Abbott said. "I thrive on the audience; I always have, and I always do. When I went out and people were screaming, I was like, 'This is what I compete for, this is why I skate.' I'm really proud of my performance."
Abbott added that he hopes to close out his competitive career with an even better performance of his free skate.
"The quad toe was one of those things [where] I needed to squeeze for one-thousandth of a second more and I would have had that landing," he said. "It was so close. I made the mistake, but I kept myself in the competition."
Aaron's quad Salchow-triple toe combination was a bit shaky, but he landed on one foot. The triple Lutz was excellent, but he stepped out of the triple Axel. His three spins and the step sequence gained Level 4, and he tallied 78.32 points.
"A couple of mistakes here and there that cost me points; I wanted to skate this program clean," Aaron said. "Now I'll go have fun with the long."
The Colorado Springs-based skater and his coach, Tom Zakrajsek, were especially pleased the skater hit his quad-triple. In some prior events, it was a quad-double.
"I was going for it," Aaron said. "I was pitched forward, but no matter what, I was going to reach back and do the triple toe."
Aaron, whose third-place finish at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships kept him off of the Sochi Olympic team, talked briefly of that disappointment.
"It was tough," he said. "I took it to heart because it's something that was a big goal of mine. I wish I had been there, but it means a lot for me to be here and try to get [U.S. worlds] spots for next year and move forward. To do that, we need to have two good skates from both me and Jeremy. I think we can do that."
Reporter's notebook: Březina placed 23rd in the short and just made the free skate round but withdrew from the event. He sprained his ankle during an awkward landing on a triple flip ... Many men performed entertaining programs. Crowd favorites included newly crowned Canadian world junior champion Nam Nguyen, the 15-year-old who is in 16th place, and two skaters who did not qualify for the free skate: Monaco's Kim Lucine, who interpreted computer game music; and Misha Ge of Uzbekistan, who performed to "Still Got the Blues."