LONDON, ONTARIO — Canada’s Patrick Chan redefined grace and power in men’s figure skating Wednesday, posting a record score for a men’s short program with a performance that bristled with brilliant jumps yet was light as air.
Chan was rewarded with a score of 98.37, shattering the previous mark of 95.32, to take a commanding lead toward what would be his third consecutive world title on the opening day of the 2013 World Figure Skating Championships.
“The Canadian fans help me to be more focused, concentrate more and they lift a lot of pressure,” Chan said afterward. “Today I had no luck, just a lot of hard work that paid off. This feels almost as great as the Vancouver Olympics. Setting a new world record is just the icing on the cake.”
The men’s competition, which not only crowns the world’s best but also determines how many skaters each country may send to the 2014 Sochi Olympics, concludes with Friday’s free skate.
American hopes of earning a third Olympic spot for its men appear in jeopardy following U.S. National Champion Max Aaron’s eighth-place finish — impressive in several respects — combined with the 14th place of fellow American Ross Miner, who fell on his opening jump.
In order to earn a third Olympic spot, the two-man U.S. delegation must finish the World Championships this week with a combined placement of 13 or less. Heading into Friday’s free skate, Aaron and Miner’s standings total 22. That’s considerable ground to make up among the field of 35.
Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten Denis, 19, was the surprise performer of the night, opening with a beautiful quadruple jump in his program set to music from “The Artist.” Following a series of more accomplished skaters who fell or stumbled in succession, Ten executed every element in his program without a single hitch and brought his hands to his face in disbelief when his score (91.56) was posted.
It seemed an impossible mark to top.
Daisuke Takahashi, 26, the 2010 world champion, fell short (84.67) despite recovering nicely from a two-footed landing on an under-rotating quad.
Then came Chan, Canada’s reigning and six-time national champion and the overwhelming favorite of an unapologetic crowd.
He proved worthy of its adulation, gliding over the ice rather than working against it. He opened with a quadruple toe, triple-toe combination that seemed effortless. Then came a triple axel-triple Lutz. These weren’t discrete, daring jumps. Chan made them unspool seamlessly from his spins and artful footwork that stitched the program together.
Scored in third place was fellow Canadian Kevin Reynolds, a mop-topped redhead who set the standard for boldness as the only man to perform two quads. The second wasn’t part of Reynolds’s scripted program, though he had vowed to add it if his opening sequence went well. While not fully realized, the quad toe he inserted midway through the program got only a slight deduction, and he finished with 85.16.
“We love you Kevin!” a section of young girls squealed from the stands.
Much had been expected of reigning European champion Javier Fernandez, 21, of Spain, following the four quads he landed to claim the title in January. Skating to music from “The Mask of Zorro,” Fernandez opened with beautiful quad salchow, as planned, but pulled up on an intended triple axel, delivering a single rotation instead. He salvaged matters with back-to-back triples and elegant lines, placing seventh overall (80.76).
Also failing short of his tremendous upside was Japan’s reigning national champion, 18-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu, who won the world title in 2010. Hanyu flashed explosive speed and lightning quick footwork. But performing on an ailing knee, he fell on his opening quad and put a hand down another jump, ending up ninth (75.94).
There couldn’t have been a competitor better equipped to handle the calamity that befell Aaron, 21, a native of Scottsdale, Ariz., who was making his World Championship debut.
A stumble during his six-minute warmup sent Aaron head-first into the wall surrounding the rink. For a split-second, Aaron thought he might pass out. But the woozy feeling was familiar to the undersized scrapper who played junior hockey for 12 years, giving the contact sport up after breaking two vertebrae.
So as nearby spectators gasped, Aaron shook it off, like he would a hard hit with the pads on in the junior ranks. He flashed a thumbs-up and proceeded to earn a career-best score of 78.20 for a futuristic short program that opened with a solid quadruple jump, included back-to-back triples and ended with a crowd-pleasing step sequence.
“I definitely hit hard,” Aaron said later. “But I’m not here to fall or do anything besides get my goals.”
His goals: Attacking his performance, hold nothing back and finish the night within range of the world’s elite skaters. Aaron did just that, placing eighth. His score reflected high marks for his jumping ability and relatively harsh marks for the artistic components of his program. Miner earned 70.24.
Earlier Wednesday, Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov took the lead in the pairs competition with a high score of 75.84 for their short program. Canada’ s Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford thrilled the crowd with their side-by-side triple Lutz to take second (73.61), while Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are third (73.47).
Americans Alexa Scimeca and Chris Knierim are 12th (55.73); Marissa Castelli and Simon Shnapr are 13th (55.68).