Hanyu wins Grand Prix Final for fourth straight year

Kyodo, AP

Yuzuru Hanyu struggled in the free skate but still eased to his fourth straight Grand Prix Final title on Saturday, becoming the first skater to achieve the feat.

Hanyu, who led the men’s standings after scoring 106.53 points in the short program, settled for third in the free skate on 187.37 but a total of 293.90 handed him a comfortable win over runner-up Nathan Chen of the United States (282.85) and compatriot Shoma Uno (282.51).

“I’m really pleased with the result. (But) I’m not quite satisfied with the performance,” said Hanyu, who failed to land the second jump in a combination after a successful quadruple salchow and also had one under-rotated jump in another combination later on.

The 22-year-old set world-record scores in the short skate and free skate at the same competition last year in Barcelona, but he couldn’t repeat the heroics this time.

“Being third in the free skate is really frustrating. I’ve got so many things to look back on, and will try to pick myself up again for the nationals (from Dec. 22),” Hanyu said.

As he skated to the haunting strings and piano of “Hope and Legacy” by Japanese composer Jo Hisaishi, the crowd was engrossed.

Hanyu started well, executing his quad loop jump as if tip-toeing onto a velvet cushion, rather than landing on rock-hard ice. So when he fell on his quad salchow-triple toe loop attempt, the crowd gasped in surprise. But they still showered the arena with flowers at the end.

“I’m able to connect with the audience,” Hanyu said.

His winning score of 293.90 put him way ahead of his established main rivals: Two-time former champion Patrick Chan of Canada and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain. Both failed to finish in the top three.

Uno narrowly missed out on the runner-up spot and placed third for the second year running, but voiced satisfaction as he nailed all his jumps on the day to recover from fourth in the short skate.

“I went back to basics to be attack-minded, with no holdbacks,” the 18-year-old said. “There are some issues to work on but I managed to jump with my heart. I feel I could compete more than last year.”

Satoko Miyahara rewrote her personal best total of 218.33 to finish second also for the second year in a row, scoring a personal-high 143.69 in the free skate to place behind Russian Evgenia Medvedeva (227.66) and above Anna Pogorilaya (216.47).

“It wasn’t perfect but I somehow came through. I could tell the triple-triple combination clicked and that was good,” said Miyahara, whose only mistakes in jumps came in an early triple flip which she under-rotated.

“Getting above the 140 mark was really pleasing,” the 18-year-old said.

The 17-year-old Medvedeva stumbled on her first jump and, being a strict perfectionist, this was still playing on her mind after the medal ceremony.

“I expected more from myself. I wanted to do more and I could have done more,” she said. “The mistake was hard to overlook. It happened to me for the first time that I missed that first (jump).” Medvedeva could afford to make a mistake, having scored a world record in the short program.

When she came onto the ice for her free, the cheers were still echoing around the Palais Omnisports in Marseille following a clinical and elegant lead-grabbing performance from Miyahara to the sounds of Gustav Holst’s “The Planets.”

Medvedeva appeared a little nervous, stumbling backward on the ice after landing awkwardly on a triple flip, triple toe loop.

She glared at the ice, giving it a look of disdain.

But this seemed to spur her on, and her triple lutz was perfect, as were the triple loop and triple flip.

“There is always a back-up plan,” Medvedeva said.

Gaining in confidence, the world champion executed a triple salchow-triple toe loop and then a double axel as if going through her training drills.

When her winning score of 227.66 points came in, she wiped her brow. She need not have, because the scores did not end up close.