It's the free skate heard around the world. And, really, it's the competition performance heard around the world. If you didn't witness it already, you're missing out. Yuzuru Hanyu shattered basically every record with both his short program and his free skate at the 2015 NHK Trophy this weekend. But why was it so special and is it the greatest of all time? Indulge me in my look back at Hanyu's weekend in Nagano. But like almost all of the rest of the skating world, I'm still trying to catch my breath.
You can use so many words to describe what Hanyu delivered in Nagano this weekend, but "historic" perhaps captures as much as a word can about what he did. By the numbers, let's take a look at why it was such a momentous performance:
- New short program world record of 106.33 is almost 5 points higher than the previous mark of 101.45, which Hanyu established at the Olympics on his way to gold there
- New free skate world record of 216.07 is almost 20 points higher than the previous mark of 196.75, established by Hanyu's chief rival, Patrick Chan, two years ago at Bompard
- New overall score world record of 322.40 is over 27 points higher than the previous mark of 295.27, also from Chan at 2013 Bompard
- First person to ever record a free skate over 200 points; first person to ever record a total overall score over 300 points - both of those thresholds seemed impossible to reach until this weekend, where Hanyu not only went over them but went way past them.
These monstrous scores came about obviously because of the technical and components aspects of Hanyu's two programs. But the sheer magnitude of these scores was the result of a perfect storm of 1) flawless execution, 2) Hanyu's history and place as Olympic champ, and 3) the fact that Hanyu competed in Japan in front of an electric home crowd that helped him deliver a magical performance in addition to a technical masterpiece.
Could those have been world records in a different setting? Absolutely. But could 106 or 216 or 322 have happened in a different setting? Maybe not. It really was the perfect storm.
These two programs from Hanyu rank up there with the best ever, or as we have read/heard about from other sports, the GOAT (greatest of all time). And of course, you can argue until the cows come home or until pigs fly about whether or not it's the GOAT (you know you liked the livestock references), but it's certainly one of the very best. The sheer excitement of the whole occasion certainly overwhelms most senses of objectivity, but I'll try to articulate my feelings on the GOAT-ness of Hanyu's performances.
Almost everything about what Hanyu did was incredible. Over the course of 6 1/2 minutes, he cleanly hit five quads, three triple axels, and six other triples. It's unprecedented - in my memory of men's skating, I don't recall any instance when this level of difficulty has been achieved with such perfection. The only real minor nitpicky iffy landing was his first jump of the barrage, where he had to fight just a bit for the landing of his quad sal in the short. But c'mon, Jackie.
The dominance factor was huge, as we saw earlier with the world record comparisons. His free skate was so outrageously good that it alone beat the *overall* scores of four of the men in the competition. And he delivered these programs with precision, ease, musicality, and everything else necessary to get you out of your seats and applaud for half an hour straight.
In that sense, his performances are, by default, starting at the top of the pile. But my one reservation is the stage on which the performances were delivered. Don't get me wrong, as one of the Grand Prix events, NHK Trophy is a top-tier regular season competition. But it wasn't the Olympics or even Worlds, where the stakes are astronomically higher and the competition is overwhelmingly stiffer. And obviously, I'm getting into the territory of splitting hairs, but you have to when you're in the conversation of greatest ever.
And so I go back to the Worlds and Olympics victories that were the most special in both being a technical showcase and providing the intangible connection of the performance.
I think about Xue Shen/Hongbo Zhao's 2007 Worlds win - clean, emotional, definitely more of a peak than their Olympics win, where they had hiccups in the free skate. But was it a technical masterpiece? Not quite.
I think about Michelle Kwan's 2003 Worlds win - flawless, goosebumps, perhaps her most moving Worlds performance. But it was a six-triple free skate without a triple-triple, not amongst her biggest technical feats.
I think about Patrick Chan's 2011 Worlds win - the most all-around men's performance ever at that point, three quads in two programs and Chan's patented incredible skating. It really set the tone for the resurgence of quads in the men's event, because he raised the bar by being both a great jumper and a great skater. But of the three performances I've looked at so far, it's the one that is not perfect - Chan stepped out of his triple axel in the free skate.
And so it brings me to perhaps the one that compares most in terms of bringing the the jumps and the performance together - Yuna Kim's Olympics win in 2010. Everything about Kim's dominance in Vancouver was incredible - her 23-point margin of victory, her exceptional technical showcase (lack of triple loop is the most obvious omission), and her delivery of both programs. The free skate and total marks she achieved in Vancouver still stand.
To me, the pressure and intensity of the situation is what pulls Kim's Olympics in line with Hanyu's NHK and perhaps surpasses it by just a bit. But for me, Hanyu's NHK performance is the best ever in the men's event.
And who knows? Maybe a few months or years from now, I'll come back to this debate and reevaluate this weekend's GOAT-ness. I may return with a different conclusion - or maybe Hanyu himself will have surpassed this performance with something even greater. Absolutely possible.
And since I'm a cheeky kinda guy, I'll leave you all with this.