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Fernández sitting pretty in pursuit of three-peat

Top three skaters crack 100-point mark; Uno slots in second, Chen sixth
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Javier Fernández of Spain made it clear he is not going to give up his crown easily. The two-time reigning world champion won the short program with a score of 109.05 -- the third highest in history -- and will take a lead of more than four points into Saturday's free skate. -Getty Images

In somewhat of a surprise, Spain's Javier Fernández, Japan's Shoma Uno and Canada's Patrick Chan are the three men's skaters pacing the field at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships in Helsinki, Finland. The three leaders were also the only competitors to crack the 100-point plateau in the short program, a remarkable feat when you consider some of the talent making up the rest of the entry list.

Japanese icon Yuzuru Hanyu was able to land his quad loop, and reigning U.S. champion Nathan Chen landed both his quad lutz and quad flip, but mistakes cost both skaters -- who were expected to finish near the top of the short program standings -- valuable points, and they stand in fifth and sixth place, respectively.

One clear outcome of the night was that execution and presentation prevailed. The top three skaters were not the only ones to receive high marks, a clear indication of how competitive the men's division is. Jason Brown -- who amassed 93.10 points for his short program -- topped his season's best by 7.33 points but still finds himself eighth after the short program.

Fernández skated what was perhaps the most complete short program of his career to date. He nailed his quad toe-triple toe combination, quad salchow and triple axel with both precision and Spanish panache, remaining consistent with his choreography throughout. His three spins and step sequence were rated Level 4, with each one of his elements receiving Grades of Execution (GOEs) greater than +1.

His combination and quad salchow received +2.86 GOE, his triple axel a straight 3.0. The Spaniard's components were also superlative, with 11 garnering marks of 10.0 across the board. He earned 109.05 points, the third-highest short program score in history and also a new personal best.

Uno also hit every one of his elements -- from his opening quad flip to a quad toe-triple toe combination and final triple axel. The Japanese star also took a big step forward from a scoring perspective, as four of his five components topped 9.0 points.

"I'm glad I was able to skate the way I practice," Uno said during the post-event press conference. "Last year, I ended my world championship with tears, and this year my goal is to end with a smile."

Staying true to the theme of the evening, Chan nailed all of his elements as well, including his quad toe-triple toe, triple axel and triple lutz. His spins and steps were rated Level 4 and, just like Fernández, all of Chan's elements earned GOEs higher than +1. The rhythmic swinging of his Beatles program, a routine the crowd inside Hartwall Arena surely enjoyed, emphasized the Canadian's pure and precise edges.

"I try to stick to my plan," Chan said. "I feel like a bit of an underdog since I came back, as I'm the only one of the three landing only one quad in my short program. I have to accept this. I spent a lot of time acknowledging what they achieve, almost forgetting my own job. It took me time to remind myself of what my strengths are. That's the only way for me to remain in touch with those guys, especially since figure skating has changed so much in just a few years."

Fernández himself acknowledged Chan's superlative skating skills, which he still considers to be among the best in the world.

"Skating is a complete package," he said. "If you lose a part of it, be it skating skills, transitions, interpretation, then you should lose everything. Everyone knows that Patrick is such a great skater. This is one of the outcomes of the day. When he gets it, then he is at the top."

Boyang Jin skated a superlative program of his own, and one that kept the talented Chinese skater in medal contention. His amazing quad lutz-triple toe combination added 19.90 points to his tally, and he was able to land a high triple axel followed by a quad toe. Most importantly, Jin has improved his style and edges, as well as his connection to the audience. His new season's best of 98.64 points sends him into the free skate in fourth place.

Hanyu didn't falter, but his scores came as a surprise -- especially to his fans. He suffered an error on his planned quad salchow-triple toe, as he slightly caressed the ice at the landing of his first jump and had to take a step before his intended triple toe, which he ultimately doubled. That invalid element cost him four points. He, nonetheless, amassed 98.39 points and advanced to the free in fifth place. 

On the ice, however, Hanyu didn't disappoint his thousands of fans in the Hartwall Arena. As soon as his Prince music started, the audience knew that he was in full control. His opening quad loop was stellar, perfectly centered and precise. He nailed his triple axel and took the time for a mimic to the audience during his step sequence, instantly setting the crowd on fire. He received a standing ovation, and no fewer than 17 girls and boys were necessary to gather the incredible amount of Winnie the Poohs and flowers he received. 

Nathan Chen didn't skate as fast as usual, but he did enough to keep himself alive in the medal chase.

"I was more nervous," Chen admitted shortly after his skate. "I am usually nervous, but I was even more so here, and that made me skate slower, more than normal. I had a rough warm-up, which made me focus on my two quads in the actual routine. Ironically, I landed a triple axel in the warm-up, and maybe that made me overconfident in the program."

Skating to Adolphe Adam's Le Corsaire, he nailed both his quad lutz-triple toe combination and his quad flip -- his most difficult elements -- but fell heavily on the triple axel. The spin and step sequence that followed his tumble received Level 3 grading.

"I made a big mistake on the axel," he said. "It was just a stupid mistake I could have avoided. I'll have to make sure that it won't happen again. I've struggled somewhat with that jump. Quads are more my thing. This is a great experience for me and I just need to learn from that."

With 97.33 points for his short program, Chen moves into the free skate in sixth place, 11.72 points behind Fernández but just 4.80 points off the podium.

Mikhail Kolyada stands in seventh place after topping his season's best with 93.28 points. The Russian is slightly ahead of Brown in the standings.

"I feel great!" an ecstatic Brown said at the end of his routine. "I put my heart and soul into that performance. Skating last was so exciting and nerve-wracking, after such incredible skates before me."

Kazakhstan's Denis Ten was the ninth skater to top the 90-point bar, as he wrapped up his evening with 90.18 points.