This World Championship has been something else altogether. After a phenomenal first two days, we saw the competition take it up yet another notch today as Javier Fernandez repeated as the World Champion with the program of his life. In doing so, he not only overtook training mate Yuzuru Hanyu, but also did something Hanyu has yet to do - win two World titles. But it wasn't just the win that was significant, rather it is what the win means for the rivalry between Fernandez, Hanyu, and Patrick Chan, who had a night he would rather forget.
Hanyu had an off day, and a hand down on that opening quad salchow set the tone. In a lot of ways, he never recovered from that early mistake, doubting himself on the second quad sal and subsequently his only fall of the competition on that jump. With a 12-point lead going into the free skate, he had a little wiggle room and could have absorbed one mistake. But a few other lesser mistakes added up to bust open the door for Fernandez and Chan to overtake him, even with the double-digit lead he held after the short program.
It just goes to show that it's unrealistic, and frankly unfair, to expect even someone as incredible as Hanyu to be perfect all the time - these are the most difficult programs ever skated in the history of figure skating. Probability says that mistakes will happen. Hanyu will come back from this.
And Chan? The three-time World champion could only muster a fifth-place finish, leaving him off the podium for the first time since 2008, when he finished ninth. As with Hanyu, Chan's opening mistake set the tone, and he went on to do something he hasn't done all season - skate a subpar free skate. All in all, he popped three jumps, which cost him 18 points in base value. The shock of the mistakes took the air out of his performance as well, and the confident Chan that we see when things go well was just not there.
Side note: how one judge managed to give Chan a 10.00 for interpretation is beyond me and most people who watched that performance.
So what does that mean? It means that this second World title marks yet another inflection point in Fernandez's career of unexpected success. It means that Fernandez all of a sudden launched himself into the category of legend-in-training. It means that the decent-sized gap between him and Hanyu (and the smaller gap between him and Chan) is now just a rounding error.
Fernandez's 216.41 free skate score was three points lower than Hanyu's world record at Grand Prix Final and just a fraction above the previous world record Hanyu set at NHK Trophy. Fernandez now has the second highest free skate score ever. But more importantly, he now has the second highest PCS ever, also behind Hanyu's at Grand Prix Final.
This shift in the record books is crucial because it now means that Fernandez will no longer hold underdog components status to Hanyu and Chan, and deservedly so. His programs this season have shown an immense growth in overall skating from just last season. It's now more or less an even playing ground between him and Hanyu, which raises the stakes for even more difficult technical content potentially to come.
Where does Chan go from here? He took the chance and returned to competition this season after taking last year off. And you better believe fifth at Worlds was not anywhere near what he visualized when he made that decision.
Americans exceed expectations
That said, it wasn't all about Fernandez either. The American men were not expected by many to really make an impact at all (though some previews got two of the US placements right ...), and all three of them skated career-best free skates to finish in the top ten in one of the toughest fields ever at a Worlds.
And yet even with those placements, they fell just short of re-qualifying three spots for the American men at next year's Worlds, which certainly feels a little crueler than usual.
Adam Rippon now holds the American record in the free skate, with Max Aaron six points off it with his performance. Rippon's clean-but-for-a-downgraded-quad-lutz skate was less surprising, considering how consistent he has been in practice. But Aaron's performance came out of nowhere, especially considering he has been struggling with his quad salchow all week, all the way up to the six-minute warmup. Grant Hochstein also surprised, hitting the quad toe that failed him the short.
The goal was never to medal - that would have been outrageously optimistic. But what Rippon, Aaron, and Hochstein did was so much more guts than glory. Skating the best free skate of your life was validation, and the glory of having your home crowd unconditionally embrace you just happens to come with it.