SAITAMA - Defending world champion Nathan Chen secured a huge lead with a stellar short program on Thursday night at the world championships.
The 19-year-old student at Yale University was the final skater of the evening and rose to the occasion, combining strong jumps with fine artistry to earn a total score of 107.40. He leads compatriot Jason Brown, who is in second place with 96.81, by more than 10 points.
Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is far back in third place with 94.87.
Hanyu returned from a four-month injury layoff to compete in Japan for the first time in more than 27 months, since winning the 2016 NHK Trophy in Sapporo.
American Vincent Zhou is fourth at 93.37, with Italy’s Matteo Rizzo in fifth on 93.37.
Shoma Uno stands in sixth place at 91.40.
Chen skated to “Caravan” and hit all the right notes. He began with a triple axel, then hit a quad lutz, and added a big quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination.
The Salt Lake City native received level fours for his spins and step sequence, and is in a strong position to become the first American since Scott Hamilton (1983-84) to win consecutive world titles.
“I’m very happy with my short program,” Chen stated. “I can always do better and improve. I want to use today to build confidence for Saturday.”
Chen added that “it was an honor to be up here (at the dais) with these two guys (Brown and Hanyu)” at the press conference that followed the short program.
Brown’s performance to “Love is a Bitch” enthralled his many Japanese fans and earned him a career-best score. He did not attempt a quad, but executed a fine program as he continues to show improvement since moving to train with Brian Orser in Toronto in the offseason.
“I have been working so, so hard at home and putting in a lot hours and time to put in the changes for the world championships,” Brown said. “I have a lot of confidence. It is a sense of maturity. I have gotten more confident as the season has gone on. I’m super pleased to come here and put out that performance.”
Brown said that Hanyu had been an inspiration for him in training.
“I’m lucky to be able to train with Yuzu,” Brown said. “He pushed me every day to be a better skater.”
Hanyu competed to “Otonal” and was exquisite with the exception of the quad salchow, which cost him several points. He will have work to do in Saturday’s free skate if he is to win his third senior title.
The superstar admitted he felt pressured after starting with the miscue.
“I couldn’t concentrate during the program,” Hanyu commented. “Although I trained hard, the result was not good. So that means I need more practice.”
Hanyu felt that after the long layoff his performance was not bad.
“I have one more day to practice before the free skate to recover. After four months off I think it was OK because I have so much experience,” Hanyu remarked. “I’m frustrated so I need to try harder. After the salchow I felt a bit rushed to do the rest of the program.”
Zhou, who was sixth in Pyeongchang, South Korea, skated strongly to “Exogenesis Symphony Part II.” He hit a big quad lutz/triple toe loop combo to start, before landing a quad salchow and a triple axel. His artistry continues to improve and was reflected in his score.
Rizzo, who finished third at the NHK Trophy in November, moved the crowd with a fine performance to “Volare.” He landed a nice quad toe loop to start his program, added a solid triple axel and went on to hit a triple lutz/triple toe loop combo.
Uno competed to “Stairway to Heaven” and went down on his opening quad flip. He bounced back to land a nice quad toe loop/double toe loop combo before executing a triple axel.
The Olympic silver medalist lost points for the fall on the salchow and also received only a level three on one of his spins.
“I really regret the mistake on the flip,” Uno commented. “In the warmup I missed it because I was too careful, so I wanted to be aggressive. But I was too aggressive, so I had to turn just before the flip.”
Jin Boyang (84.26) fell on his opening quad lutz and is in ninth.
Keiji Tanaka (78.76) wound up in 19th place after doubling his planned opening quad salchow. He posted level fours on all his spins and a level three on his step sequence.
“It’s a common mistake for me recently,” Tanaka noted of the fall. “I will analyze today’s mistake and prepare for the free skate with tomorrow’s practice.”
China’s Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won the gold in pairs with 234.84. They moved past Russia’s Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov (228.47), the leaders after the short program, to clinch the title.
Russia’s Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert (217.98) came in third.
The women’s free skate is set for Friday night, with defending world champion Alina Zagitova holding a more than five-point lead over Kaori Sakamoto. Kazakhstan’s Elizabet Tursynbaeva is in third place.