It was another thrilling men's competition last weekend. The 2017 Four Continents Championships was yet another showcase of the best of the best. Six of the medal contenders coming up at Worlds were here, making it something of a preview of what to expect next month in Helsinki. In the end, it was Nathan Chen who continued his rise and prevailed over Yuzuru Hanyu with higher technical difficulty from Chen and mistakes from Hanyu.
Figure skating is a two-pronged sport, after all, one focused on technical elements and another focused on program components. And in an ever-changing landscape of jumps - each of the skaters in the top six upgraded their programs this season - it is important to revisit base values, component ranges, and what they mean for the outcome of competitions.
Technical ceilings as advantages
No surprise there - the jumps-only base values are correlated with the number of quads for each skater. Each skater has a technical ceiling as a result of their content, which is absolutely important to consider when you compare the programs with each other. Chen and Boyang Jin, both with seven total quads each, have a commanding advantage over the rest, with Chen just a tad higher because of his quad flip. Hanyu and Shoma Uno, six total quads each, are next in line. Javier Fernandez has five total quads, which puts him at a fairly sizable disadvantage going into the World Championships.
And it was precisely this advantage that gave Chen the win at Four Continents. Hanyu, who ultimately took silver behind Chen by less than four points, doubled his quad salchow once in the short and once in the free, which took a good 12-15 base value points off his two programs.
You better believe that Patrick Chan, who currently plans four quads total, is introducing the quad salchow this season with the plan to add it to his short program next season. He knows that he's at a disadvantage technically, and closing that gap (and essentially will also greatly increase his chances of another Olympic podium next year.
Components as the equalizer
But it's the program components that become the great equalizer. And it's also the reason why, when it's all said and done, Hanyu, Chen, and Uno, in that order, emerge as the three favorites when the best of the best are in the mix. The five quads that Fernandez has in his programs make the case for him to be part of that very top group. And Chan makes up a good bit of the ground on Jin with their strength in components, both of whom would then be considered outside shots when others make mistakes.
With the kind of technical risk that these top men are planning in their programs, maxing out these technical values, and in turn, maxing out the component marks, are not common occurrences. As it stands, only four men have broken 100 points in the short program (Chen, Fernandez, Hanyu, and Uno), and only four men have broken 200 points in the free skate (Chan, Chen, Fernandez, Hanyu).
We've seen before that clean programs at the right moments are grandly awarded. Hanyu and Fernandez are the only skaters to have gone over 215 in their free skates, and those two programs both had *only* three quads. And so flawless execution can and will still make a huge difference.
Postscript: Changes ahead
I've written before about the imbalance of TES and PCS in the men's event, particularly in the free skate. Components have a maximum (50 points in the short and 100 points in the free), whereas technical elements theoretically does not - though there is a limit to the jumps that are possible to do.
One of the outcomes of last year's ISU Congress was the reduction of the number of jumping passes in the men's free skate from eight to seven - a rule to take effect after next year's Olympics and Worlds. This means two things: 1) the sky-high TES that we've seen (in the 110s for Chen and Hanyu last weekend, and the record 120 from Hanyu at 2015 Grand Prix Final) will be brought down about 6-10 points and have a greater balance with component scores, and 2) the free skate and total world records at the end of next season will likely stand for a very long time.