The ability of sports to glorify one moment and humble the next was on full display at the Autumn Classic International in Montreal over the weekend.
Olympic and world champion Yuzuru Hanyu broke his own world record in the short program with 112.72 points on Friday, then crashed back to earth the next day with a calamitous free skate that earned him a tally of just 155.52 and a second-place finish behind Javier Fernandez.
So what to make of it?
Not much, Ice Time thinks.
It was the first competition of the season and some rough edges are to be expected. No need for Hanyu’s fans to overreact or those of other skaters to get overly optimistic.
Is Hanyu still the best skater in the world?
Is he the favorite to win his second straight gold medal at the Olympics in Pyeongchang?
Is he the greatest skater ever?
So now that we have dispensed with that, let’s take a look at his programs in Canada.
Hanyu’s short program to Chopin’s Ballade No. 1 looked like he had picked up exactly where he left off after his breathtaking free skate at the world championships in Helsinki back in April.
The Canadian announcers on the live stream from the Autumn Classic sure thought so. Like many after Hanyu’s epic in Finland, they were so spellbound they were almost speechless.
Here is their exchange after Hanyu’s short program.
Former Olympic pairs silver medalist Debbi Wilkes:
“What can you say?
Analyst Elise Hamel:
“Wow. One word.”
“The ability to accelerate. One or two strokes and he’s at full speed. That entry into the triple axel was stunning.”
Hanyu’s quadruple salchow, triple axel and quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination jump were all sublime. Level-fours for his spins and step sequence completed the sensational performance.
Just 24 hours later, Hanyu’s free skate to “Seimei” was doomed from the outset after he popped his planned triple lutz into a single. He rallied to hit a quad salchow/triple toe combo, then stumbled on his next several jumps, including a fall on his triple axel.
“No one is immune to a disappointing skate,” said Wilkes. “Not even a world or Olympic champion. That did not go as planned.
“Perhaps doubt started to enter in right at the beginning of the performance,” Wilkes continued. “However, as any true champion would do, he fought back. There were some tremendous elements. His quad salchow, breathtaking, combined with the triple toe.
“With the mistakes, I don’t think he was able to get into the texture and character of the program,” Wilkes added. “He seemed to go from warrior to, in an instant, a softer side of himself.”
Fernandez topped the podium with 279.07, with Hanyu finishing on 268.24.
“This was my first competition this season, and I was able to gain something big called frustration,” Hanyu was quoted as saying by Kyodo News. “I will keep chasing after the strong side of me and aim to surpass myself with an even more difficult routine.”
Hanyu, who won the Autumn Classic last season, now has several weeks to get his equilibrium back before he takes the ice at the season-opening Cup of Russia Grand Prix in Moscow in October. Fans should expect a much better free skate the next time around.
Mihara solid in second place
Nearly lost in the gigantic glare of Hanyu’s performance was that of Mai Mihara, who took second place behind Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond in the women’s event in Montreal. Osmond’s winning total score was 217.55, while Mihara earned 199.02.
Mihara, who was fifth at the worlds last season, has a very appealing aura to her skating. It’s almost hard to describe. She just gets it.
The announcers were moved by Mihara’s attention to detail in her short program to “Libertango.”
“Playful, fun,” Wilkes said. “My first impression was, ‘Wow. Look at the speed.’ ”
As the replay of Mihara’s elements ran, the 1964 Olympian continued her praise.
“Clean elements, skated confidently. No hesitation.
“The balance was all there. Equal attention given to all elements and the in-between stuff as well.”
Mihara’s free skate to “Gabriel’s Oboe” earned further admiration from the commentator.
“What a wonderful example of how beautiful music, married with fantastic choreography, and well-skated elements becomes a piece of art,” stated Wilkes.
“She really understood the music, too. Absolutely no hesitation in attacking the jumps.”
Hongo runner-up in Slovakia
Rika Hongo came in second at the Nepela Trophy in Bratislava over the weekend. World champion Evgenia Medvedeva claimed the title with a big score of 226.72, with Hongo finishing at 189.98.
Hongo under-rotated several jumps in her free skate, which helps explain the large gap between her and the magnificent Medvedeva.
The event is named after the late Ondrej Nepela, who won the gold medal at the 1972 Sapporo Olympics and was a three-time world champion.
Araki claims silver in debut
Junior Grand Prix debutante Nana Araki, a 15-year-old from Higashiura, Aichi Prefecture, captured the silver medal at the Belarus JGP in Minsk over the weekend behind Russia’s Alexandra Trusova with an impressive showing.
Araki is coached by Yuko Monna, who once upon a time was two-time world champion Miki Ando’s first coach. The teenager was confident throughout both of her programs. Her total tally was 183.00 to Trusova’s 196.32.
“That was a great program,” said ISU announcer Ted Barton on the webcast of the event. “Aggressive, clean and charming.”
Barton noted how well prepared Araki appeared.
“All the Japanese and Russian skaters are so well trained in their programs, even if they make a mistake they don’t let it affect the performance as much as many of the others skaters do,” he commented. “Very professional.”
Barton especially liked Araki’s triple lutz and double axel in her short program to “Bei Mir Bist Du Schoen.”
“This was a beauty,” he said of her triple lutz. “Launches into the air. Lots of air time on the way out.”
More of the same for her double axel.
“Good speed and flow on the takeoff through the air and on the landing.”
Araki’s free skate to “Come, People of God,” received solid marks from the nine-judge panel. In her 11 program elements, she received just a one negative grade of execution (-1 on a triple flip) out of a possible 99.
Barton recognized Araki’s determination in his analysis of her free skate, where she cleanly landed seven triples.
“Mission accomplished for Nana,” Barton said. “She was on a mission. She was determined all the way through that program even when there was a little bit of a lean. She didn’t give in at all. She got all her elements done beautifully.”
Araki’s triple lutz was praised again by Barton and also viewers online.
“Look at the distance and the height. Amazing,” stated Barton. “Into the triple toe loop. Wow. How much distance was traveled there?”
Riko Takino, who pocketed the bronze at the season-opening JGP in Brisbane, Australia, settled for fifth place with 162.86 in Minsk.
The 15-year-old’s poise in her short program to “Poeta” caught Barton’s attention.
“She made that big mistake with the double lutz instead of the triple lutz, but at the end of the program in her closing pose she didn’t show any emotion. Just held it,” Barton said. “So often the skaters will show their disappointment immediately. She did not. Professional all the way from the first step to the end.”
Barton singled out Takino’s opening triple flip/triple toe combo.
“Great speed into her combination. Just an aggressive, fast skater. Some lovely body lines. Great qualities.”
Barton liked what he saw from the Osaka native in her free skate.
“She might be a little package, but she is full of power, and energy and delight,” he said. “She had some challenges in the program. Didn’t get all her technical points, but what a wonderful performer, all-around skater.”
Tatsuya Tsuboi, a 14-year-old from Okazaki, Aichi Prefecture, came in fifth in the men’s competition in his JGP debut.
Tsuboi skated to Elton John’s “Your Song” in the short program, and Barton liked what he saw from the youngster.
“A beautiful performance by Tatsuya,” Barton commented. “Great skating skills. Good, deep edges.
“A lot of potential this young man has,” Barton added. “It is going to be very interesting to watch him develop over the next couple of seasons in the Junior Grand Prix.”
Tsuboi competed to “Rurouni Kenshin” in the free skate where he fell on his triple axel.
“He only made one mistake and that was on an element he is just learning — the triple axel,” Barton pointed out.
“He is not perfectly tight and strong in the air yet,” Barton continued. “He is small, so he is able to react quicker. As he gets a little stronger and goes on to the quads, he is going to need to tighten up in the air. Nevertheless, at this stage, all excellent quality on those jumps.”
Croatia JGP up next
Mako Yamashita and Akari Matsuoka will skate at the Croatia JGP in Zagreb this week. Yamashita, who captured the bronze medal at the Salzburg JGP earlier this month, will be looking to move closer to a spot in the JGP Final with another podium placing.
Mitsuki Sumoto, who won the Latvia JGP in Riga three weeks ago, and Koshiro Shimada will represent the Hinomaru in the men’s event.