by Rebecca BAILEY
Agence France Presse
BEIJING, China (AFP) — Nathan Chen smashed a world record held by fierce rival Yuzuru Hanyu as the “shocked” two-time reigning Olympic figure skating champion made a shaky start to leave his title defence in trouble Tuesday.
Facing off for the first time at the Beijing Games, Hanyu had to settle for a disappointing eighth in the short programme, with his Japanese teammates Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno second and third.
Chen, who scored 113.97 to comfortably beat Hanyu’s previous short programme record of 111.82, pumped his fist in delight at the end of his performance.
“I have no idea what came over me,” the 22-year-old American said of his reaction. “I don’t generally do stuff like that but it just felt right… I was just really happy and I guess that just came out.”
The score takes the three-time world champion one step closer to the only major prize that has eluded him, a gold medal at the Games.
Hanyu, who scored 95.15 after making a mistake on his first jump, has to close a gap of almost 20 points in the free skate to be able to complete his goal of securing a third Olympic title in a row.
The 27-year-old told journalists he thought the error might have been caused by a hole in the ice made by another skater.
“Actually, I feel really shocked today,” he said. “But I have one more chance in the free programme.”
– ‘Ice Prince’ falters –
Chen had come close to beating the record already when he performed the same “La Boheme” programme for the team event, but his skate on Tuesday was cleaner.
Dressed simply in black and white, Chen was in control as he sped around the rink, landing two quadruple jumps and a triple axel.
Earlier, Hanyu, looking every inch his nickname “Ice Prince” in a sparkling silver and blue top, took to the ice to cheers and screams from the crowd.
Hanyu inspires legions of devoted fans around the world and China is no exception.
The mistake happened on his first jump, intended to be a quadruple Salchow — but he ended up only making one rotation.
Hanyu only arrived in Beijing on Sunday, but was adamant that late arrival was not to blame.
“The preparation to get here was right,” he told the Olympic news site. “It’s mind-boggling because everything had gone right until now.”
Chen said he sympathised — at the 2018 Games he had a disastrous short programme which dashed his hopes of gold.
“Definitely does not feel great,” Chen said. “But you certainly can’t ever count him out. He’s a two-time Olympic champion for a reason.”
Hanyu confirmed he was still planning on performing a quadruple axel — a jump no skater has ever landed in competition — in the free skate.
– ‘Perfect performance’ –
Second-placed Kagiyama, who is coached by his father, put in a jaunty skate to Michael Buble’s “When You’re Smiling”.
“This is my first Olympics,” the 18-year-old said. “To be honest with you, I thought I was going to be very nervous, but from the beginning to the end I think I was just having fun.”
Uno, currently third, said: “Nathan Chen put in a perfect performance… For any athlete it would be extremely difficult, if not impossible to win over him.”
The top 24 skaters go through to the free skate on Thursday.
Among them is Donovan Carrillo from Mexico — whose regular training ground is a shopping mall ice rink.
Also overjoyed — or in his words, “stoked on life” — was Canada’s Keegan Messing.
He made it to Beijing in the nick of time on Monday after finally getting the negative tests he needed after catching Covid-19 just weeks before. He finished ninth.
© Agence France-Presse