SAITAMA, Japan (Reuters) - America’s Nathan Chen successfully defended his world figure skating title on Saturday with a spectacular, record-setting free skate in a nail-biting contest with hometown favorite and Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan.
Chen built on a strong lead in the short program with a dynamic free skate that included four clean quadruple jumps and had the crowd at Saitama Super Arena, just north of Tokyo, clapping along by the end.
The 19-year-old Chen broke the world record for both the free skate and total points, set moments before by Hanyu, surging to victory with 216.02 and a total of 323.42.
“As soon as I stepped on the ice, I felt that energy already there. He (Hanyu) has been pushing the sport making the sport so enjoyable, so competitive, and that definitely made me so much better of a skater,” said Chen.
Hanyu, 24 and competing in Japan for the first time in several years, brought the house down with a routine that began with a clean quadruple loop and hit two more clean quads, with a quad Salchow under-rotated.
In a routine that was haunting and energetic, Hanyu, who had not competed for four months due to an ankle injury, racked up 206.10 points in the free skate and 300.97 in total, breaking the record he set in a Helsinki Grand Prix event in 2018.
Yet it was only enough for silver.
“I had one mistake in my free program but I am pleased I could perform well at the world championships,” said Hanyu, whose fans cheered ecstatically when he landed his jumps.
Hanyu, who is known as a perfectionist, added that he was far from satisfied with the result.
“I really want to win. I think I did my best, but the problem is that in figure skating competition consists of two days, and I am losing in both,” he said.
“I am a really competitive person and want to compete with a strong opponent. I respect Nathan in this sense.”
American 18-year-old Vincent Zhou finished third with a dynamic and powerful routine that helped him rise a place from the short program, claiming 186.99 points for a total of 281.16.
“It wasn’t perfect but I am more than happy with that. It felt unbelievable doing that out there,” he said.
Unstoppable French ice dance duo of Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron took their fourth world championship crown and set a new world record with a sensual routine that won a standing ovation.
The two, who were narrowly edged out of gold at the Pyeongchang Olympics after Papadakis’s costume came unfastened in the short dance, surged to victory at the Saitama Super Arena after tango-ing to a substantial lead in the rhythm dance short skate.
With a new scoring system in place this season, Papadakis and Cizeron seemed to mirror each other through a series of spins and gravity-defying lifts and finished with 134.23 in the free dance and 222.65 altogether.
They ended up roughly 10 points ahead of their nearest rivals and eclipsed their own world record set at this year’s European Championships after a season dogged by back problems for Cizeron.
“We were exactly here five years ago in Saitama (for the World Championships) and remember the whole experience from those five years. It is incredible,” said Papadakis.
Russians Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov finished second ahead of Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue.
Reporting by Elaine Lies; editing by Sudipto Ganguly and Toby Davis