SAPPORO – It was another successful week for Japan on the international circuit.
A week in which Yuzuru Hanyu does not win may not seem successful to some, but that is not the way Ice Time sees it.
Japan took home half of the singles medals at the Four Continents Championships in South Korea, with Mai Mihara winning her first senior title in stunning fashion, and Hanyu and Shoma Uno collecting the silver and bronze medals, respectively, behind American Nathan Chen.
There is a lot of buzz around Chen now and deservedly so after his showing at the Gangneung Ice Arena, where he landed five quadruple jumps in his free skate to edge Hanyu for the title. Chen’s winning margin over the Olympic champion was less than four points (307.46 to 303.71).
Before any panic sets in, fans need to keep in mind that Hanyu did not skate clean in either his short program or free skate. If he had, he almost surely would have won.
Hanyu did claim the free skate with a season-best score (206.67) despite Chen’s quintuple quad performance.
Rockerskating’s Jackie Wong put the matter in perspective with the following tweet on Sunday:
“Fact is a perfect Hanyu can still beat a perfect Chen this season — technical disadvantage and all . . .”
What I think is worth noting now is that going into next month’s world championships in Helsinki, it won’t be Hanyu that is under pressure, it will be Chen.
It will be interesting to see how the 17-year-old handles it. Just a couple of months ago it did not really seem like he was in the equation when it came to discussing world title contenders, but here he is.
This may make life a bit easier for Hanyu, who can now be the hunter instead of the hunted for the first time in quite a while. He certainly seemed relaxed afterward.
“I didn’t feel so much pressure,” Hanyu was quoted as saying by the ISU website following the free skate. “I was trying to feel relaxed and to enjoy the performance I have practiced for so much. I’m very excited about the score, I showed what I had practiced and I am satisfied with what I did. I will practice my quads more to make them perfect and I would like to be more confident in the next competition.”
NBC analyst John Coughlin had an interesting take on Hanyu.
“This wasn’t the most emotionally connected I have seen him to his performance, but maybe that’s something that he needs to do,” stated Coughlin. “My knock on him in the past is that he’s been almost too emotional. Maybe he needs to become a little more detached in order to become consistent enough to stay on top with these young guns coming up behind him.”
Coughlin’s fellow NBC analyst Andrea Joyce noted that Hanyu was doing some fact-finding on his first visit to the rink for the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.
“You can’t underestimate the importance of him being out there on this Olympic ice in anticipation of the Olympics next year,” Joyce said. “He said yesterday (Saturday) that he has been inspecting the temperatures in the arena, the ice conditions. Even how the audio sounds throughout the arena. He’s just soaking that all up, preparing himself for next year.”
Coughlin clearly admires the way that Hanyu deals with the demands of being the No. 1 skater in the world.
“I would say that the pressure he faces, the media that follows him around, the fan base that follows him around, is unlike any other athlete in the sport at this time,” Coughlin noted. “For him to be able to skate under that pressure, is that much more tremendous and impressive.”
Uno has quietly put together a very nice season, winning his first senior Japan national crown, earning a second straight bronze medal at the Grand Prix Final, and now the bronze at the Four Continents.
The 19-year-old earned some high praise for his efforts in South Korea.
“He, to me, has some of the best skating skills, the best interpretation. He just seems to have gone a little bit under the radar,” said a Eurosport commentator after Uno’s free skate, despite the fact Uno fell on both of his triple axels.
“I think Shoma is as much worthy of being tipped to win the gold medal in the Olympics next year as Hanyu or Chen,” added the commentator.