On a day when Patrick Chan was set to begin defending his title as world figure skating champion, he skated at times, as if he was on shifting sands.
He was in Nice, France, after all, where snow is an afterthought at the best of times.
But the 21-year-old skater from Toronto pulled himself together after landing his opening quad off-balance, low on a knee, too unstable to do a triple toe loop at the end of it. Still, he held on, and lost only .86 points out of 10.30 for the quad alone.
Chan stuck the triple toe loop on the end of a later jump, a triple Lutz. It saved him from disaster, picking up 11.30 points there.
But his wonky feet hadn’t finished yet. He almost lost balance twice during his footwork sequence, leaning backward precariously. He saved himself at those moments, too. One judge gave him a mark as low as 7.25 out of 10 for transitions.
In the end, Chan delivered a season’s best score of 89.41, still behind his world record mark of 93.02 set at last year’s world championship in Moscow.
But the surprise of the day was Michal Brezina of the Czech Republic, stunning when he won Skater America earlier this year – without a quad in his short program. Today, the day he turned 22 years old, Breznina actually threw it in, one among 14 quads in the short program. Brezina landed his, a quadruple Salchow, easily. And what’s more, he made it his third jump, not his first, as other skaters do, when they prefer to take advantage of the most energy.
Brezina actually earned a higher technical score than Chan: gaining 48.70 points to Chan’s 46.24. Chan’s presentation marks towered over those of Brezina, who has a flair for performance, too.
Today, Brezina finished only 1.74 points behind Chan, to give him his biggest scare of the season, ending with 87.67 points. Brezina cut his hand during his Kodo drum routine, and looked stunned when the mark went up. (He had scored 79.08 at Skate America.) He has always taken inspiration from 2008 world champion Jeffrey Buttle, but he’s able to do something that Buttle always had difficulties with: landing quads.
Former world champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan grimaced when his scores went up, a third-placed 85.72 points, putting him 3.69 points behind Chan. It wasn’t what he wanted.
He came to the world championships intent on winning his world title back. Takahashi finished third to Chan at Skate Canada in October, but he had no quad in his short program at the time. In the long program, he under-rotated a quad flip.
At NHK Trophy in Japan, Takahashi won, but with no quad in the short, and a fall on the quad in the long. Chan wasn’t in the field.
At the Grand Prix Final in Quebec City, Takahashi finally tried a quad in the short program, but slightly under-rotated it, as he did in the long program.
But for this event, Takahashi went for the moon, attempting a quad-triple in the short. However, he under-rotated the second part, the triple toe loop, and that cost him. He still has the top short program score of the season, taken at NHK Trophy: 90.43.
The 2007 world champion, Brian Joubert, skating on home turf, made a triumphant comeback after several years of dismal results – he was eighth at the world championships last year – and is in fourth place, after landing a quad-triple. He is almost six points behind Chan with a score of 83.47, but still showed a lack of transitional moves. Still, he got a standing ovation from the homers. (A couple of judges gave Joubert marks as low as 6.50 for transitions.)
Javier Fernandez, of Spain, who defeated Chan at Skate Canada in the short program, is in fifth place with 81.87 points, after tiny errors, struggling to hold onto landings of his quad and his triple Axel. Coach Brian Orser, celebrating the 25th anniversary of his world championship win in Cincinnati in 1987, figured Fernandez would have drawn about 86 points.
Surprises? U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott had come to the world championships completely prepared and confident but in split seconds, his race for gold was over. He’s now in ninth place with 74.85 points, after falling on his triple flip – triple toe loop combination and then doubling a triple Lutz. With no quad in the routine, he couldn’t make a mistake. He made too many. He’s ranked as highly as he is, because he maximized bonus points on other elements.
Canadian silver medalist Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., landed a quad Salchow – triple toe loop combination apparently with ease, but he lost huge points when he under-rotated the Salchow. That put him in 12th place with 72.95 points. He finished 11th overall at the world championships two years ago in his debut.