Ice Network

Hanyu excels as Fernández falters on home ice

Machida, Kovtun finish 2-3 in short program; hometown skater in fifth place
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Showing no ill effects from the collision he suffered at Cup of China earlier this season, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu returned to form and jumped in front of the men's competition with a 94.08-point short program. -Getty Images

Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, the 2014 Olympic and world gold medalist, took a strong lead in the men's competition at the Grand Prix Final on Friday in Barcelona, Spain. He garnered 94.08 points for his program -- a season's best. Tatsuki Machida, also from Japan, sits in second place, 6.26 points behind Hanyu, with a score of 87.82 points. Russia's Maxim Kovtun is third, 7.06 points behind Hanyu, with 87.02 points.

Hanyu opened the festivities Friday evening and had the crowd with him right away. He nailed his opening quad toe in a decisive fashion, and went on to perform his incredibly flexible spins. He landed his triple Axel in a spread eagle position. He then launched his triple Lutz-triple toe combination, but fell on the landing of the second jump. His element score was superlative (51.11 points), the best of the evening. His component score, 43.97 points, was also the best of the evening.

"I was so surprised during the six-minute warmup, as the crowd was so supportive of Javier [Fernández], and I felt like [I was] away," Hanyu said, laughing. "I was happy with my skate. When I did NHK [Trophy] and [Cup of China], I could not just do it and focus for the competition. But today, I felt very comfortable and relaxed and concentrated for the competition."

Hanyu elected to skate to "Ballade No. 1 op. 23 in G minor" by Frederic Chopin this season, and it was moving to watch a master skater play his skates on the black and white keys of the great pianist. Hanyu has learned to be profound in the nuances of his edges and steps, while at the same time remaining very light on his skates.

"I think I could not have skated to Chopin when I was young," Hanyu reflected afterward. "When I first heard that music, I simply thought it was beautiful. As I started skating to it, however, I realized it was not easy. But today, in this rink, I really enjoyed the music, and I could feel the power of it. Those few seconds I stay still at the beginning of my choreography are very important for that reason: It's a good moment for visual training but also to feel the music. Tonight, the music was with me."

Machida skated his program to "Fantasy for Violin and Orchestra" by Nigel Hess with his whole heart. His opening quad toe-triple toe combination gained him 12.26 points, as he had a rough landing on the triple toe. He followed with a solid triple Axel and Lutz. He amassed 45.32 points for technical elements and 42.50 for components.

"My second Grand Prix (Trophée Eric Bompard) was also with Maxim [Kovtun]," Machida said. "It was in France, and it did not leave me much time to prepare for the Final. I did my best, but I am not in my best condition yet. I was able to put a performance I can be proud of, I think."

Kovtun opted for a two-quad short program again. He landed both his quad Salchow-triple toe combination and quad toe, which earned him 23.61 points in a matter of seconds. His triple Axel was less than stellar, but he got Level 4 for two of his spins and his step sequence.

"I'm skating for the first time in Spain, obviously, and it was great to see the audience discovering the sport," Kovtun said. "I skated last for the first time in a competition of such a level and I made some mistakes, especially on the triple Axel and the quad, where I may have relaxed too much."

Skating to "Danse Macabre" by Camille Saint-Saëns, Russia's Sergei Voronov delivered a flawless program, the only one of the evening. He opened with a splendid quad toe-triple toe combination, which earned him 14.83 points. He followed with a triple Axel and a triple loop. His three spins were rated Level 4.

He was extremely pleased as he left the ice but was slightly less so when he saw his marks: 45.9 points for his elements and 38.58 for his components, for a total of 84.48 points, about nine points under his season's best. The audience booed his marks as well.

The audience exploded as only a Spanish crowd can, as Javier Fernández' name was called. The arena turned red and amarillo for a few seconds as if it was the Barcelona Football (soccer) Club's stadium, until many requested silence for the local champion. Fernández had an off-night, however. He fell on his opening quad Salchow and doubled the Lutz of his planned triple Lutz-triple toe combination. His triple Axel was up to par, and all his spins and as well as his step sequence were rated Level 4.

"Skating in front of a home crowd is really a first for me," Fernandez said when he left the ice. "It's like when you hit a wall. I had never saw this, and 'Poiiing,'" he said, slamming his nose in his hand.

"Every other skater has a competition in his country, but it's a whole new experience for me. The volume of the roar in the arena surprised me in the warmup, but I tried to focus. I suppose I was too afraid of failing, and you know, it's when you're afraid to fail that you do fail. I don't know if such a competition will ever happen again here, so I'd like to skate great for the people who came."

Fernández scored 79.18 points and is in fifth place.

Skating to Carmen, Japan's Takahito Mura fell on his opening quad toe but landed a flying triple Axel (he got +2 Grade of Executation on that element) and two spins, one rated Level 4 and the second rated Level 1. He then tumbled on the landing of the triple toe of his triple Lutz-triple toe combination. He had to settle for 40.98 points for his elements and 38.37 points for his components for a total of 78.35 points. He is in sixth place.