For sure, Patrick Chan's comeback season has been full of ups and downs. But one pretty amazing stat that we have is that he has skated four of the cleanest free skates of his career. And last Sunday at the 2016 Four Continents Championships, he skated the best free skate of his career - both in his total score and in his technical content. What does this mean? How does it compare? What are his chances at Worlds? And how did this quad revolution start to begin with? Let's have a look.
If my memory serves me correctly, that was the first time we've ever seen Chan land two quad toes and two triple axels in one program. Prior to learning a consistent quad, he always planned two triple axels in his free skates. But with the axel not being his favorite jump, he opted to switch to a two quad toe-one triple axel pattern in the free at 2011 Worlds when his quad toe became consistent. And though there were a couple of competitions where he did one quad toe and two triple axels, he never did all four in one program (at least not that I can recall).
So Chan's technical content at Four Continents was the most difficult it's ever been, and he hit everything flawlessly. And with that, he became the third person to break the 200-point mark in a free skate in international competition. Yuzuru Hanyu, of course, did it and shattered all records at NHK Trophy in November with a three-quad program, only to top that score two weeks later at Grand Prix Final. World champ Javier Fernandez also broke 200 at that competition with three quads, and then did it again last month at Europeans.
How do they compare?
But unlike Hanyu and Fernandez, Chan's path to 200 was lined with two quads instead of three. That, and the fact that both Hanyu's and Fernandez's programs are back-loaded with the third quad in the second half, opens a 10-point base value gap between them and Chan. And more notably, if you add in component marks, it's a gap that makes Hanyu unbeatable if they all skate clean programs.
And so Chan's bid for a fourth World title will be complicated by this gap. As it stands, even with Chan's increased difficulty in the free skate with a second triple axel, he is well behind in base value in both his short program and his free skate. Both Hanyu and Fernandez have five quads planned in the two programs, whereas Chan has three. The main distinguishing factor is that Chan has never competed a quad salchow (though he has trained it), and so it is fairly unlikely that come five weeks from now at Worlds, we will see Chan match them in base value.
But all that said, Hanyu and Fernandez are putting out four very high-risk programs. Sure, the additional two quads that they have over Chan score lots of points, but they also invite a higher probability of mistakes. Chan still has plenty of opportunity to win that fourth World title, but it will require mistakes from likely both Hanyu and Fernandez for that to happen.
Isn't it ironic?
It's also interesting to reflect on the state of men's skating in 2016. This season has seen an uptick in not just the number of quads being performed but also the number of the very top skaters in the world who are upping their technical difficulty.
While Chan has been openly vocal in lamenting this latest quad revolution, it's important to go back to the last time we saw another significant uptick in quads - the 2011-2012 season. And perhaps more interestingly, that era can be fairly directly attributed to Chan himself.
The changes in the IJS after the 2010 Olympics, where Evan Lysacek won gold without attempting a quad in either program, led to an increase in the value of quads. Skaters began to take advantage of this increase the following season. But the catalyst was Chan, who planned AND landed three quads (one in the short and two in the free) at the 2011 World Championships. He proved then and there that you can have both phenomenal basic skating and phenomenal jumps. His win at 2011 Worlds set a new standard for what the best male skaters in the world should be - all-around skaters who also have the most difficult jumps. Six months later, you had people trying quads like never before.
And so Chan's dismay about figure skating becoming a "slam dunk contest" because of the increase in quads this season is perhaps a bit ironic, as he, at least in part, laid the foundation for it just about five years ago. Are quads taking longer to set up and thereby disrupting the flow of programs, as Chan has asserted? Yes, for some skaters. But a resounding no for others - just look at Hanyu and Fernandez for examples of effectively choreographed entrance steps into and out of quads.
And yes, you have the Boyang Jins of the world who are throwing quads left and right and aren't great all-around skaters. But you've also got the Hanyus and Fernandezes of the world who are doing exactly what Chan did in 2011, except with two more quads.
Worlds is gonna be something else.