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Fernández pounces on Hanyu's mistakes to win title

China's Jin jumps to bronze; Rippon, Aaron send TD Garden into frenzy
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The men's medalists (L-R): Silver medalist Hanyu, Gold medalist Fernández and bronze medalist Jin. -Getty Images

Unlike the suggestion of the Frank Sinatra lyric, Javier Fernández needed no luck and he needed no lady on this night at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships. He just needed Javi.

Trailing rival and training partner Yuzuru Hanyu by 12 points after the short program, the 24-year-old reigning world champion was at his sensational best during a men's free skate event that oscillated between thrilling and cringe-worthy.

Skating to music from Guys and Dolls by Frank Sinatra, Fernández landed three quads and two triple axels (one in combination with a double toe), sending a near-packed TD Garden crowd to its feet some 15 seconds before his program was complete. In the end, he registered a career-best 216.41 points to top Hanyu, 314.93 to 295.17.

Boyang Jin, the 17-year-old buoyant Chinese jumper, finished third while Patrick Chan, who closed out the evening, turned in one of the most woeful skates of his career, finishing fifth.

But the performance was enough for Chan, the three-time world champion, to edge out Team USA's Adam Rippon and Max Aaron, who had delivered two of the evenings most riveting performances for the home crowd in Boston.

With their sixth- and eighth-place results, respectively, Rippon and Aaron fell just shy of securing the U.S. three spots for the 2017 World Championships. Grant Hochstein, the alternate who replaced an injured Nathan Chen, skated to a better-than-hoped-for 10th place behind a career-best skate.

Mikhail Kolyada, the refreshing 21-year-old Russian, was fourth.

"To repeat as world champion is not easy," said Fernández, who was treated for an injury to his right heel between the short program and free skate. "I went onto the ice and knew that if I wanted a chance to win, I needed a clean program. And I did it."

The storylines were aplenty as Hanyu, lauded for being this generation's one to beat, appeared shaky from the start, putting his hand down on his opening quad salchow and then falling on another, with the TD Garden letting out a cry of surprise.

Aware of his subpar program, Hanyu glided at center ice as he finished, elbows on his knees, clearly defeated.

"I was pretty calm, (but) that's not all I need to skate a good program," Hanyu said later. "I need to balance myself with my body and mentally, (and) I wasn't able to do that today. I was feeling very uncertain about my quad salchow. I was frustrated about my mistake on my best jump, the triple axel."

Hanyu's falter opened the door for Fernández, who came through it kicking two skaters later, blades out.

Fernández first delivered a monster quad toe, then ticked down his list of jumps: quad salchow-triple toe combination; triple axel-double toe combination; quad salchow; triple flip-loop-triple salchow combination; triple axel; triple lutz; and a final triple loop. By the end, the arena was rocking, clued in on an "upset" from the guy who won the title at this event a year ago but for who few had foreseen repeating the feat again.

In fact, after a pedestrian short program Wednesday, Fernández strolled through the mixed zone backstage quietly, no journalists quizzing him on what he thought could come next.

There were points this season, he said, that he had doubts that he would even be able to contend for a world medal. Hanyu, still in the glow as Olympic champion and winner of the Grand Prix Final by nearly 40 points, was the headlining favorite -- for everyone.

"In Toronto, I had practices where I would stop and think, 'Oh my god, I have to defend this title,'" Fernández said. "It was a hard time sometimes after a bad practice. When I got to Boston, those doubts went away. I just thought, 'Whatever happens, happens.'"

There was lots that happened before the fantastic finish by Fernández on this Friday night in Boston, starting with the three American men who put out career-best skates in front of a crowd that was aching for homegrown success.

After Hochstein's emotional (and clean) free, he stood at center ice as the building shook around him, finally letting himself take in a moment he didn't dare dream of before, and couldn't quite believe after.

"The crowd just carried me through (the later minutes), which is when your legs start dying," he said. "They pulled every last bit out of me, and therefore, I was able to give more. To put it in perspective, when nationals was here two years ago, I was 11th. It shows the work we've done. It's for me. I'm at a loss for words."

Aaron and Rippon, somehow, would up that ante, the building nearly exploding when Aaron, the 2013 U.S. champion, nailed his opening quad, then going apoplectic as he connected on a second.

Rippon would take the ice three skaters later, and the U.S. champion delivered on a quad lutz (though it was under-rotated) and then was at his lyrical, moving best, hitting eight more triples and putting his hand to his ear at the conclusion of his free, TD Garden -- at this point -- shaking.

"It was more difficult than I imagined," Rippon admitted. "I knew exactly what I needed to do: to take it one element at a time. That's what I did. While my performance was going on, I just let myself go a little bit. I really soaked up the experience."

After Fernández had leapt through the door left open by Hanyu, Chan appeared to crash into its frame, missing his opening combination as he put a hand down (a quad he turned into a triple), then nearly crashing into the boards at another point and botching an axel into a single.

It was clear that the three-time world champion had not been on a stage like this since the 2014 Olympic Winter Games.

"I know my ice," he told reporters after, saying that ruts on the surface had contributed (literally) to his downfall.

It was a memorable night for skaters like Jin and Kolyada, who each made their worlds debut and left quite the impression on skating fans around the globe.

"I am quite satisfied," Jin told reporters, saying he struggled to train regularly before this event. "I learned a lot from [Fernández and Hanyu]. This makes me want to train harder for next season. They are much stronger than me."

And while Hanyu -- with his Olympic gold, world records and superstardom in Japan -- will remain the "great one," he's now lost to his good friend and training partner Fernández at each of the last world championships.

"When you go through a hard time and all of a sudden something good comes out, it's a good feeling," Fernández said, citing his injury. "Today, I learned a lot. I have worked my [butt] off at practice. I just had to go out there and enjoy."

The title of world champion for another year? That is something to enjoy. And something Brian Orser can keep in his stable in Toronto for a third straight year.

Orser remains the connection for two of the world's greatest skaters, although who performed better was clear on this night.

"Brian is the person that is with us every single day," Fernández said. "[Our team] is such an important thing for us. They want us to be better everyday. [Yuzuru] was training every day to be training to be world champion. … To have him here with me is special. The good we are doing with Brian, all of us together, it's something special."

Notes:

-- The men's free skate started with a host of nations not known as skating powerhouses: the Philippines, Malaysia, Great Britain, Israel and Australia. As Israeli Alexei Bychenko finished, he raised his arms above his head, TD Garden showing delightful support. Of the 24 skaters, 20 different nations were represented. 

-- The U.S. goes back to two men's skaters at the 2017 World Championships, meaning it'll have to produce a pair of top-seven finishes to gain a third spot back for the 2018 Olympics.

-- In the green room backstage, Hanyu bowed at the TV screen after Fernández' outstanding program, showing his respect for the world champion.

-- Max Aaron went one further, leaving the green room (next to the kiss and cry) to meet Rippon just off the boards for a bear hug after the current U.S. champ brought the house down.

-- Free skate flop for Maxim Kovtun, who hands the baton of "who's next?" in Russia to the 21-year-old Kolyada. Kovtun finished 18th overall.

-- Sheer disappointment for Shoma Uno, who looked as though he had been hit by a truck after his sixth-place finish in the free skate.

-- "It was sweet, the way the crowd reacted to that first quad-triple…it was unreal," Aaron said of the boisterous TD Garden audience. "The crowd was amazing. It was a blast. [We Americans] are all just having fun when it counts."

-- Hanyu, far and away getting the loudest cheer as his name was introduced as he took the ice for his free skate, needed help from the announcer to lift the crowd's (destroyed) spirits after his to-be-desired result. "Come on, Boston!" The announcer encouraged. "Yuzuru Hanyu!"

-- Hanyu in press: "I'm really sad, but I'm really happy with Javi's program. I can't explain (what happened). I want to do it again."