The first day of competition at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships was basically everything that skating fans hope for. There were magical performances, there were unexpected surprises, and there was an enthusiastic, supportive crowd in Boston that brought out so much from each and every one of the skaters.
Hanyu does it again
It wasn't a world record this time - though it was very close to one - but Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu delivered another magical short program when it counted. And this performance came after a tense practice session earlier in the day where Hanyu was a tad bit off his game and got frustrated. But it was clear when he got on the ice for warmup that his focus was laser-sharp.
Hanyu goes in 12 points ahead over everyone else, including the two men who won the most recent World titles. Defending champ Javier Fernandez fell on his quad sal and is in second, while three-time champ Patrick Chan fell on his triple axel and is in third. And because of those mistakes, it was clear what the standings would be. But even if all three of them had skated cleanly, Hanyu had the advantage over Fernandez in components and over Chan in base value, so there would not have been an argument there either.
While Hanyu is not absolutely unbeatable right now, the 12-point gap does make it all that much harder for Fernandez and Chan to make a comeback. But these programs are super risky and ice is slippery, so I wouldn't bet all the marbles ... but most certainly a lot of them.
Russia's Mikhail Kolyada was the biggest early surprise, hitting a personal best short to lead for quite a while until Boyang Jin supplanted him in the second-to-last group. Likewise, in ice dance earlier in the day, Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier rode their revamped short dance all the way to a personal best thanks in part to achieving all Level 4 elements. In the process, they upset 2015 World champions Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte and grabbed fifth place going into the free dance.
There were some not-so-great surprises as well. The biggest ones were in the men's short, where two skaters who finished in the top ten last year did not even make it out of the short program. Canada's Nam Nguyen, fifth last year and a late replacement for Liam Firus, who was originally chosen for the Canadian team. The decision, officially, was made by Firus and his team to give Canada the best chance to regain three spots for next year's Worlds. But with Nguyen not qualifying for the free skate, that will not happen.
Tenth last year and recently the bronze medalist at Four Continents, Han Yan let an early mistake ruin his concentration and lost all sorts of points as a result. Yan has never been known to be a consistent skater, but finishing outside the top 24 was low probability even for him.
Less disappointing but still surprising was defending bronze medalist Denis Ten, who came in with question marks after an injury-filled season. And even with some solid practices, he didn't put it together in the short here. But don't count him out for top 10, because he can move up a lot with a strong free skate. He's currently sitting in 12th, but less than three points away from eighth.
American men in 7th and 8th
There was some doom-and-gloom coming in about the American men. With Nathan Chen out, the quad count diminished significantly in the U.S. men's programs. Adam Rippon, of course, got the brunt of the criticism for playing it safe with a quad-less short. But figure skating is a game of risk, especially with the programs we see these days. And Rippon's clean, quad-less skate today was more than good enough to put him in 7th, even with the judges dinging him just a tad on not having continuous connecting steps into his lutz.
U.S. silver medalist Max Aaron has been great with triples all week but have had trouble with his generally-trusty quad salchow. And even though he put his hand down on the quad, he rotated it and hit everything else in his program. The third American, Grant Hochstein, is in 16th.
But with Rippon and Aaron in seventh and eighth, the door reopens for the possibility of regaining three spots for the American men next year. Stay tuned.
And the M word
Of course, I can't end this post without talking about what I was previewing a week ago. Newly-crowned U.S. and Four Continents champions Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani grabbed a personal-best short dance to sit in second going into the free dance. In doing so, they received higher PCS marks than both Madison Chock/Evan Bates and Kaitlyn Weaver/Andrew Poje, which has not happened in years.
Momentum in ice dance is a crazy thing. It's what brought Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir their 2010 Olympic gold, and it's what brought Meryl Davis/Charlie White their 2014 Olympic gold. And it's looking like the Shibutanis will ride the momentum they are on now back to the top. They've set themselves up well for a return to the World podium for the first time since 2011. Don't forget, the free dance is their strength this season.
But defending champs Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron, even with some iffy twizzles, were the rightful leaders. I would have had them a bit lower and closer to the Shibutanis, but their components were undeniably the strongest in the short dance.
We will find out what happens tomorrow with the free dance.