SAITAMA - Yuzuru Hanyu shattered his own world best with a score of 103.10 in a spectacular short program at the Japan nationals on Saturday night and firmly established himself as the favorite for the gold medal at the Sochi Olympics in the process.
Hanyu’s score marked the first time ever a Japanese skater has topped the 100-point mark in a short program. However, because the competition is not an International Skating Union event, the mark will not be officially recognized.
Hanyu had established a new standard of 99.84 just two weeks ago at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, where he beat three-time defending world champion Patrick Chan of Canada to win the title.
The Sendai native skated to “Parisian Walkways” and began with a sublime quadruple toe loop in front of a capacity crowd at Saitama Super Arena. He went on to land a triple axel and a triple lutz/triple toe loop combination jump on the way to victory.
Hanyu, who turned 19 two weeks ago, showed that he is in top form with the Winter Games just over 45 days away. His footwork and spins were crisp as was his presentation in the memorable outing.
“I felt good tonight. I was able to control my feelings,” stated Hanyu. “Beating Patrick in Fukuoka helped my confidence, so I was able to enjoy my performance.”
Hanyu, the 2010 world junior champion, credited his concentration for getting the high score.
“I did my best by focusing only on me and not thinking about the other skaters,” he said.
Hanyu said his strong start was a result of his successful practice in the morning and during the six-minute warmup.
“Both practices I was hitting the quad toe loop with 100 percent success,” he noted.
Despite finishing second in both of his GP assignments (Skate Canada, Trophee Bompard), Hanyu is surging at precisely the right time.
Tatsuki Machida is in second place with 93.22 and has his hands firmly on a ticket to Sochi after a superb showing.
The 23-year-old, who won both of his Grand Prix assignments this season, opened with a beautiful quad toe loop/triple toe loop combo to “East of Eden.” He went on to cleanly land a triple axel and triple lutz while executing the remainder of his program with flair and received a standing ovation.
The Kanagawa native was fourth at the GP Final and has been one of the revelations of the season with his strong performances.
“I am believing strongly I will be an Olympian,” said Machida. “I have been thinking 20 years about making the Olympics. This is my only chance because of my age.”
Machida’s determination and showmanship were on full display this evening.
“I will use all of my emotion and energy to get the job done tomorrow,” he commented. “I will skate with a strong heart.”
Takahiko Kozuka, who finished eighth at the Vancouver Games, is a surprise in third place on 90.70.
Kozuka competed to “Unsquare Dance” and was steady while hitting a quad toe loop, triple axel and a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.
“I had a smooth feeling out there and I think that is why I received the good score,” said Kozuka.
Daisuke Takahashi was given a raucous reception when he took the ice, but under-rotated his quad toe loop, then fell on his triple axel and finds himself in fourth at 82.57.
Takahashi, who pulled out of the GP Final with a bruised shin, skated to “Sonatina for Violin” but was far from his best.
“My performance today was regrettable,” he said. “I don’t have any pain from the injury, but I’m lacking confidence because of it.”
After falling in the middle of his program, Takahashi said the rest was a blur.
“I can’t remember anything after falling on the triple axel,” he claimed.
Takahashi said he will try to pull himself together for Sunday’s free skate.
“I have to reconstruct my feelings for tomorrow,” he stated.
Nobunari Oda, who finished a surprising third at the GP Final, struggled after missing his opening quad toe loop and is in fifth with 77.72.
Japan will have three spots for both men and women at the Sochi Games.
The women’s short program will be contested on Sunday, while the free skate is set for Monday.