Fukuoka – Despite falling on the opening jump of his free skate, Yuzuru Hanyu held off three-time world champion Patrick Chan to win the Grand Prix Final on Friday night in dramatic fashion at Marine Messe.
With the Sochi Olympics just two months away, Hanyu raised the bar in the battle for the gold medal in Russia.
Hanyu entered the evening with a 12-point lead over Chan following the world record he set in the short program on Thursday night. But after falling on his quadruple salchow, Hanyu recovered by landing a quad toe loop and then proceeded to hit seven triple jumps on the way to victory before a sellout crowd.
The Sendai native skated to “Romeo and Juliet” and showed great fortitude by holding it together after the fall and seeing Chan skate an excellent program immediately before him. Hanyu racked up a total score of 293.25 in the triumph.
The result will certainly give Hanyu, who turns 19 on Saturday, great confidence as the Olympic countdown continues.
“This was a big step toward Sochi,” said Hanyu. “We still have the Japan nationals soon, but this is part of the process.”
Chan was nothing short of spectacular in defeat, finishing with 280.08 points. He began his program with two titanic quad toe loops, the first as part of a combo jump with a double toe loop, and went on to land six triple jumps.
Hanyu began training with Brian Orser, who coached Kim Yu-na to the gold medal at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics, last May and said their collaboration is paying dividends.
“I have put in a lot of effort in the past year,” he said. “It was a big change with a new coach and a new location and dealing with the language barrier. But it has been good for me. My coach has helped me with both my skating skills and physical strength.”
Hanyu finished second to Daisuke Takahashi in last year’s Grand Prix Final in Sochi, where Chan took third.
The Canadian did not appear disappointed despite coming up short on this night.
“It was a good day. I’m happy with how I skated,” he commented. “I skated a bad short program here and a good long program. With me it is usually the other way around.”
Chan competed to “Four Seasons” and claimed that winning isn’t everything to him.
“I get more satisfaction out of skating a good long program than winning the gold,” he said.
Nobunari Oda (255.96) was almost an afterthought despite finishing third, with all the attention focused on Hanyu and Chan.
Oda hit the ice on his opening quad toe loop, but got up and made a respectable showing the rest of the way.
“I’m not satisfied with my performance today,” he stated. “I fell on my first jump. I think my short program was better.”
Tatsuki Machida (236.03) recovered from a disastrous short program to finish fourth.
In the women’s competition, Mao Asada will attempt to win her record-tying fourth GP Final title in the women’s free skate on Saturday night.
Mao leads Russia’s Adelina Sotnikova by nearly four points, with American Ashley Wagner in third place.
A win would tie Mao with Russia’s Irina Slutskaya for most victories in GP Final history.
Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov are first after the short program in pairs. The world champions lead with 82.65 over Germany’s Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy (79.46).
American ice dancers Meryl Davis and Charlie White hold a narrow lead after the short dance.
The duo tallied 77.66 and are slightly ahead of Canada’s Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir (77.59) going into Saturday’s free dance.
China’s Jin Boyang vaulted from fifth place after the short program to victory in the men’s Junior Grand Prix Final with an incredible performance in the free skate.
Jin skated to a Charlie Chaplin medley and fought his way to the top of the podium by cleanly landing three quadruple jumps and five triples.
“After the national competition I was in a good condition, so I decided to put more difficult jumps into the program,” stated Jin. “Besides my jumps I would like to improve my impression.”
Russia’s Adian Pitkeev (216.24) took second, with American Nathan Chen (214.61) third.
Keiji Tanaka, who led after the short program, fell on his opening quad toe loop and a triple axel on a planned combo jump and tumbled to fourth with a tally of 205.71.
Tanaka competed to the soundtrack from “Dr. Zhivago” and appeared unsettled after hitting the ice at the outset of his program.
Russia swept the women’s Junior GP Final, with Maria Sotskova (176.75) leading the way.
Sotskova (176.75) competed to the soundtrack from “Pina” and retained her lead from the short program. She was joined on the medal stand by Serafima Sakhanovich (172.86) in second and Evgenia Medvedeva (163.68) in third.
Sotskova had what qualifed as the best quote of the day following her victory.
“I’m in shock,” she said. “I was so nervous before the competition today. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
No Japanese women qualified for the JGP Final this year.