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Hanyu follows up Olympic title with world gold

Sochi champ edges countryman Machida by 0.33 points; Fernández third
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After a fall on his quad in the short left him in third place, Yuzuru Hanyu came roaring back in the free. The Olympic champion won that phase of the competition by more than seven points to snatch the gold away from Tatsuki Machida, edging his countryman by a scant 0.33. -Getty Images

Yuzuru Hanyu, the 19-year-old who won Japan's first men's Olympic gold in Sochi last month, narrowly defeated countryman Tatsuki Machida to win the world title.

The margin of victory at the 2014 World Figure Skating Championships was one of the slimmest on record: Hanyu earned 282.59 points to Machida's 282.26.

"Even though I didn't watch Tatsuki, in my head I had been thinking that he did a perfect program," Hanyu said. "That was very close."

Hanyu, whose quads were not consistent in practices this week, opened his free to Nino Rota's Romeo and Juliet soundtrack with a quadruple Salchow that was fully rotated but a bit off balance. His next jump, a quad toe loop, was excellent.

Seven triple jumps, including two triple Axel combinations, and three good spins followed, although he did get a deduction for entering his triple flip on an inside edge. His score for the segment, 191.35 points, exceeded his winning tally in Sochi, and the performance was far stronger. The judges agreed, assigning Hanyu program components averaging 9.2, including two perfect 10s, one for performance and one for choreography.

"Overall, I did enjoy this competition; however, I hope that I become a skater who can always end with strong performances," said Hanyu, who trains in Toronto under Brian Orser. "My quads are still not perfectly consistent in practice yet. I felt the responsibility and the pressure that I had to win this event."  

With Hanyu's win, Orser achieves a rare coaching Grand Slam: The two-time Canadian Olympic silver medalist's pupils won Olympic and world (Hanyu), European (Javier Fernández) and world junior (Nam Nguyen) titles this season. For good measure, Hanyu also won the Grand Prix Final.

Machida's free skate, choreographed by Phillip Mills to Stravinsky's "Firebird," was strong but failed to capture the elegant magic of his short program Thursday.

The 24-year-old, who trains in Nagoya, opened with two good but not outstanding quad toe loops, the second done in combination with a double toe. He followed with a triple Axel-triple toe combination and three more triples but overrotated his triple loop. His dynamic step sequence was excellent.

"It was a very long and tough season for me; however, I am happy and feel a sort of achievement," Machida said. "Yuzuru's success really encouraged me and pushed me through the season. I wanted to be as strong as him and was trying to keep up with him throughout the season. This is why I am on the podium here."

Machida's tough season began late this summer when former coach Anthony Liu closed the Ice Castles training center in Lake Arrowhead, Calif., and the skater returned to Nagoya, where he attended university, to train under Yoshinori Onishi. He triumphed at Skate America and Rostelecom Cup before placing fourth at the Grand Prix Final. A disappointing short in Sochi cost him a shot at a medal, but he improved on his performances here.

Fernández, the two-time Spanish European champion, won his second consecutive world bronze with 275.93 points. As usual, his quads told the story: His opening quad toe was solid; his quad Salchow combination was fully rotated, but not cleanly landed; and his third quad, another Salchow, was excellent. His program, choreographed by David Wilson to a medley of the Peter Gunn soundtrack and "Harlem Nocturne," was more energetic and polished than in Sochi, although he popped an intended triple Lutz.

"I feel good, and it was a good program," Fernández said. "I popped the triple Lutz and I did not do my quad Salchow-triple toe loop combination, but it still was a good program."

Fernández, who trains alongside Hanyu at Toronto's Cricket Skating and Curling Club, added that following Japan's Olympic champion was a challenge.

"Right after Yuzuru had finished his program, there were a lot of flowers on the ice and it was a bit hard to skate, but then the crowd started to support me, too," he said.

Russian champion Maxim Kovtun placed fourth with 247.37 points after a solid free. He popped his opening quad Salchow but hit his quad toe and six triples. His achievement gains two men's spots for Russia at the 2015 World Figure Skating Championships.

There was also good news for the U.S.: The placements of four-time and reigning U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott and 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron gained three spots for the U.S. at next season's worlds.

Abbott delivered a very stylish performance to music from the British group Muse, earning a personal-best 166.68 points and ending with 246.35 points, also a personal best.

As in the short program event Thursday, he was a great favorite of the Japanese crowd, gaining huge applause and a long standing ovation from the 18,000 Saitama spectators. Hundreds of flowers were thrown on the ice, and the 20 flower girls needed several minutes to collect them.

The 28-year-old skater, who trains at Detroit Skating Club under Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen, opened with a clean quad toe loop, followed by a triple Axel-double toe combination. Five more triples, including another triple Axel, followed. Two of his three spins were excellent and gained mainly +2 grades of execution (GOEs) from the judges.  

Abbott's components ranged up to 9.75 for performance and 9.5 for interpretation, reaching an average of 8.6. It was one of the best performances he ever gave internationally, and some in the crowd thought he should have merited higher scores. 

"It is really bittersweet for me," said Abbott, who planned this to be his final competition. "I have so many emotions going through my head. I'm happy with how I skated, and that was exactly what I wanted to do here.

"That's the best I've ever skated that program in competition," he continued. "I'm so proud and honored to do it in Japan. I had such a warm welcome. I want to look at my protocols and see where I lost points. I know that I could have been much higher than that."

When asked about his skating future, Abbott seemed to reconsider his vow to retire.

"I'm certainly not done skating; I love to skate, and I love to perform, and I love to create," he said. "I'm going to be in front of an audience for a long time to come. I'm trying to absorb this moment, and then I'll go home and take the next step to see what happens."

While he was able to place a solid eighth, Aaron's free skate was not one of his best. The Colorado Springs-based skater had trouble with several jumps, as he either stepped out of or touched his hand down on the landings of his two quad Salchows and two triple Axels. However, all of his jumps were fully rotated, and he finished with 225.66 points.

"I'm frustrated," Aaron said. "I came out here and gave it my best; I trained hard for this, but, obviously, it didn't go the way I trained it. I have to go back and see what I can do for next season. Hopefully, by the next time this opportunity comes around, I'll be ready and I won't be wishy-washy like I was today."

Aaron won bronze at the 2014 U.S. Figure Skating Championships, losing out on an Olympic spot to silver medalist Jason Brown. However, U.S. Figure Skating's International Selection Committee nominated him for worlds, with Brown as alternate.

"Not being named to the Olympic team but being named to the world team means a lot to me, but today all [my jumps] were off axis," he said. "I had to take the plane off auto-pilot and fight for it."

Reporters' notebook: For the first time in his career, Chafik Besseghier skated two good programs including quad toe loops. His surprising ninth-place finish secured two men's spots at the '15 worlds for France. With Brian Joubert retired and Florent Amodio too depressed to compete by an 18th-place Olympic finish, Besseghier was France's sole man in Saitama ... When three-time world champion Patrick Chan elected not to compete in Saitama, Orser pupil Nam, just 15, got the call. The world junior champion's 12th-place finish, along with Kevin Reynolds' 11th place, salvaged two men's spots for Canada next season ... After a brilliant short, Czech Tomáš Verner closed out his career with a 15th-place free skate to place 10th overall. He, too, was showered with applause from the enthusiastic Japanese crowd.

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