Tatsuki Machida seized the lead in the men’s short program with a sublime performance at the world championships on Wednesday night at Saitama Super Arena.
Machida achieved a personal best of 98.21 points and has a lead of close to two points over Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who is in second place.
The Kanagawa native, who finished fifth at the Sochi Games last month, skated to “East of Eden” and opened with a huge quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo. He went on to hit a triple axel and a triple lutz before a capacity crowd of more than 18,000 audience that was absolutely enthralled.
The 24-year-old Machida made up for his stumble in the short program at the Olympics with a confident performance from start to finish. His total topped his previous best of 91.18 (achieved this season at Skate America) by more than seven points.
“Apart from my scores I am very proud I could perform the best “East of Eden” ever for all the audience,” Machida stated. “I think I could pay back for Sochi at least with my short program.”
Fernandez, who was fourth in Sochi, totaled 96.42 with an energetic effort. He began with a quad salchow, followed by a triple axel, then landed a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.
Fernandez performed to “Satan Takes a Holiday”and quickly got the crowd behind him. He earned the bronze medal at last year’s worlds.
Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu fell on his opening quad toe loop and is third on 91.24.
Hanyu recovered to land a beautiful triple axel and a fine triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but the damage was done. Hanyu can still win his first world title with a strong showing in the free skate on Friday.
“Needless to say, the toe loop wasn’t good,” acknowledged Hanyu. “But how I jumped wasn’t that bad so I am going to adjust that for the free program.”
Hanyu did his best to recover after the early miscue.
“Even with the mistake on the first toe loop I calculated the score and tried to recover the points by performing high-point elements,” he said.
“I got motivated when Hanyu got the gold in Sochi,” noted Machida. “He is a good skater and I want to give all to reach the gold medal.”
Machida acknowledged that this may be his last chance at a medal in a major competition.
“I think this is my chance to get the medal and I think there won’t come any chance anymore to skate in front of that kind of big audience,” he said.
Hanyu paid a compliment to his teammate and recognized he has work to do.
“Machida did well and it made me feel my performance today was not good enough,” he stated. “Hopefully I will have a better performance the day after tomorrow.”
Tomas Verner of the Czech Republic is in fourth with 89.08, while China’s Han Yan (86.70) is fifth.
Takahiko Kozuka competed to “Unsquare Dance” and posted a respectable a 85.54. He stands in in sixth place.
Kozuka began with a quad toe loop, then hit a triple axel and a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo, but was not in a class with his compatriots on this night.
“I felt relieved but at the same time I have to concentrate on the free program now,” said Kozuka. “The audience clapped with the beat and that gave me an uplifting feeling.”
Kozuka said he received encouragement earlier in the day from the injured skater he replaced in the event.
“I received an email from Daisuke Takahashi today on my way to the arena,” he said. “I believe he wanted to be in the competition. So my thoughts were with him.”
Takahashi pulled out with an ongoing leg injury earlier in the month, allowing Kozuka to move up from his role as an alternate.
Fernandez admitted that it is not easy getting up for a post-Olympic worlds.
“Sometimes it’s tough to get motivated after the Olympics,” he said. “My coaches told me to give 100 percent and I can see that working hard produces results.”
The Spaniard knows that Hanyu still represents a big obstacle in a bid for the gold.
“Not everybody can come prepared and he still has another program, so I bet he will be great,” said Fernandez.
The last time one country swept the men’s competition at the worlds was in 1956 when the United States did it for the second year in a row.
Germany Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy lead the pairs after the short program. The four-time world champions scored 79.02 and hold a two-point edge over Canada’s
Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford (77.01)
The Germans were the bronze medalists at the Winter Games.
Narumi Takahashi and Ryuichi Kihara (49.54) finished 17th out of the 23 pairs entered and failed to qualify for Thursday’s free skate.
The women’s short program will begin on Thursday, with Mao Asada seeking a strong start in her bid for a third world crown.
This is the sixth time Japan has hosted the worlds.