New world order in men's skating
LONDON, Ontario -- The three-peat may belong to Canada's Patrick Chan, but the Friday night spotlights at the world championships illuminated two men who are out to upset the established order.
Kazakhstan's Denis Ten and Spain's Javier Fernandez won the first world medals for their countries, finishing second and third, respectively. Chan kept his title despite two falls and a couple of other stumbles in a long program that opened with two huge quadruple jumps.
The 19-year-old Ten, who has never finished on the podium of a major international competition, was technically superior to Chan and more expressive, which is easier to do when one stays upright. He gained visible confidence as he interpreted music from the soundtrack of the silent movie "The Artist," and his free skate score of 174.92 eclipsed Chan's by more than five points.
Their respective reactions painted the story of the evening long before the judges weighed in. Chan slapped his forehead in frustration and skated to the boards looking distressed. Ten pumped his fists, fell to his knees, kissed the ice and slapped it in exhilaration.
Later, Chan spoke with suitable modesty about his flawed victory. But if there were bonus marks for charm, Ten would have dethroned him with sheer, disarming joy.
When Ten was presented with the arcane, half dollar-sized silver "small medal" Wednesday for finishing second in the short program, he noted that it was his country's first hardware of any kind in figure skating. The full-scale version, he said Friday, made him feel "like I'm still sleeping and it's time to wake up."
Ten grew up skating on outdoor rinks and a walk-in freezer of an indoor facility so cold that his mother layered him in multiple pairs of pants that made him look "like a cabbage," he said. He progressed to exhibitions in shopping malls -- "I performed for all the shopaholics," he said -- and spent seven years training in Russia. Ten moved to Lake Arrowhead, Calif., after the 2010 Olympics to work with veteran coach Frank Carroll.
Chan, who at his best flows as smoothly as any athlete on ice, fought a choppy current for much of his long program after falling on a triple Lutz jump that followed his two spectacular quads. He backed into the championship courtesy of his exceptional short program that was almost seven points better than that of Ten, and said he was sorry he couldn't have done better for the 7,000 partisan fans who filled the Budweiser Gardens arena.
"Figure skating is about an overall good week," Chan said. "It wasn't easy, but I'll take the win ... I'll put it in my back pocket and learn from it."
Fernandez also struggled with his trademark acrobatics as he competed to a whimsical medley of Charlie Chaplin movie soundtracks, popping one of his two planned quads and two triple jumps. He looked exhausted after the medal ceremony and admitted it has been a long season -- no wonder, since every one of his accomplishments is a milestone in a country more accustomed to warm-weather sports heroics.
His coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, said he's not displeased that Fernandez will enter the Olympic season "on the bubble, as an underdog."
"I know from experience that winning the world championships the year before the Olympics can be very difficult," Orser said with a wry smile, referring to the expectations that followed his 1987 world title.
World championships newcomer Max Aaron of Scottsdale, Ariz., acquitted himself more than respectably with a seventh-place finish overall, sixth in the free skate.
Aaron landed his opening quadruple Salchow and thrilling last-second triple loop, but couldn't execute his second planned quad. In a more subtle sign of progress, he earned high marks for a step sequence thanks to intensive work with choreographer Pasquale Camerlengo.
"He doesn't make me evolve into something that he wants me to evolve into, he works with my style," Aaron said. And that is? "Maybe a little rough around the edges and aggressive."
The 21-year-old Aaron, who trains under coach Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, gave the crowd another hockey moment when he landed his triple Axel too close to the boards, caught the edge of one skate under the barrier and slammed the other toe pick into it before recovering. (Aaron, a talented former youth hockey player, wiped out against the boards during the warm-up for his short program.)
"I wanted to come here and attack and have no regrets," Aaron said. "I'm happy to have this opportunity and deliver what I have to show the world."
Standings notwithstanding, he may have fewer things to put behind him than his good friend and former training partner Chan.
"I'd definitely never say I was embarrassed, but I was disappointed in myself," Chan said. "The moment wasn't as good as it could have been, but it was nonetheless very special."