The men's event at the 2017 World Championships promised to be and definitely became all about the Big 6. There was little doubt that, at least for this season, they formed an impenetrable wall between them and the rest of the world. And how was that possible? The sheer technical difficulty and the superb basic skating and choreography combined to put up scores that we just haven't really seen all that much of before. And though we didn't see a clean set of programs here, we still witnessed a memorable competition in Helsinki, highlighted by the incredible free skate comeback of Yuzuru Hanyu.
Hanyu continues to cement his GOAT status
I've commented a few times about Hanyu's 2015 Grand Prix Final performances and his status as the GOAT (Greatest of All Time). Saturday's free skate was the first time we've seen him skate cleanly since that Grand Prix Final, and he was unbelievable and looking like the dominant skater we had expected him to be since that competition.
This was really only the second time that he has delivered well under the pressure of an ISU Championship event with expectations on him to win (the first being 2014 Worlds in his free skate). It was a testament to his skating and the mistakes in the event in Sochi when he still won the title despite errors. And during the last two Worlds, he has taken a lead into the free skate and faltered, with training mate and friend Javier Fernandez grabbing the gold instead. It was the exact opposite in Helsinki - Hanyu went from fifth to first with his magnificent skate, and Fernandez dropped from first to fourth after a mistake-filled free.
So how do this free skate and this win change his position in the history of figure skating? Well, it definitely elevates his status and allows him to continue to make the case for himself as the greatest. In an era when the difficulty level of men's skating is at an unbelievably high level, if he can sustain this through the next season and win his second Olympic gold, we can give him the GOAT medal.
Uno shows his competitiveness
But we can't forget Shoma Uno, who came through with a clutch free skate to bring him his first World medal. Given what he and Hanyu did in the short program, the fact is that Uno was a clean triple lutz away from the gold medal. And it's true that a clean Hanyu in both programs would have been unbeatable, but Uno proved that he could very much be in the running next season if his growth continues.
And the others of the Big 6?
Rounding out the medals once again was Boyang Jin, who put it all together for the first time this season to take the bronze. But what was most impressive this week has been his improvements in basic skating - his ice coverage and ease of power in between his jumps have gotten stronger even in the past couple of months. His work with Lori Nichol has certainly paid off this season, and you wonder how much more he can push his basics for the Olympic season.
Fernandez's phenomenal short program put him 4 1/2 minutes away from his third World title, particularly given his double-digit lead over Hanyu. But it was not to be, as the inconsistency we saw in practice this week reared its head in the second half of his free skate. Same goes for Patrick Chan, who skated respectably in the free to stay in the top five, though the lower difficult combined with errors kept him from being competitive.
Perhaps the biggest surprise was the underperformance of Nathan Chen, who was the hot shot coming into Worlds. Chen arrived having just dealt with boot issues, and they continued to plague him more and more during the week here. And it all came to a head in the free skate, where his boots threatened to derail his entire program from the very beginning. It's rare that you see a skater check the stability of his skates during a program, but that's exactly what he did after falling on his opening quad lutz. It was a valiant effort, with four of his six quad attempts landed, but it was just too much of a burden on his mind. His entire program suffered as a result of the issues, and he was thinking through his free skate instead of performing like he did in his last three competitions.
A medal favorite coming in, Chen had to settle for sixth. You better believe he and his team will be trying to ensure that these equipment issues will never happen again.
Brown makes a statement of his own
In the short program, Jason Brown received the highest score ever given to a short program with no quad. What is notable about this is that he didn't dig himself into a hole that some expected him to because of the lack of difficulty. He drew the perfect spot in the skate order for that - skating last in the short program, he was able to take full advantage of the score escalation that we saw right after two flawless programs from Fernandez and Chan. Had he been in the previous group or even earlier in the final group, that 93.10 would likely have been more around 90-91.
The statement that Brown made was partly through the quality of his skating, which continues to be recognized as some of the best in the world, and partly through his practice the day after. I have never seen him practice with the kind of determination and motivation as he did - hitting multiple clean quad toes and attempting quad salchows. Now that he is healthy again and has figured out his triples, he can finally focus on getting the quad toe consistent and perhaps even adding a quad salchow to his repertoire. A Jason Brown with one quad in the short and three in the free is a Jason Brown who can contend for an Olympic medal next year.
And hey, Team USA now has three spots in PyeongChang thanks to him and Chen.