HELSINKI — Canada’s Patrick Chan made his one quadruple jump a big one, his feet nearly clearing the top of the boards at Hartwell Arena.
The three-time world champion sat third after Thursday’s men’s short program at the world figure skating championships, planting himself in podium contention with the textbook skills and gorgeous execution that once made him the world’s best.
Plus just one quad.
“I was trying to stick to my plan,” Chan said. ”I’m sitting (at the post-skate news conference) with two guys who have two quads in their short program, and I’m the only guy who was doing one.
“I found out this entire season that I almost psych myself out by just seeing and acknowledging what they’re doing and then forgetting what I need to do… My whole goal this year was to try and challenge myself just to stay in my own world and know that I belong in this group of men, and not get too discouraged.”
Defending champion Javier Fernandez of Spain scored 109.05 to win the short program, while Japan’s Shoma Uno (104.86) was second. Each had a pair of clean quads.
Kevin Reynolds of Coquitlam, B.C., landed both of his quads cleanly to finish 12th with a score of 84.44.
Skating to the Beatles’ “Dear Prudence” and “Blackbird,” Chan opened with his huge textbook quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination followed by a triple Axel to score 102.13, his first time cracking the 100-point barrier.
“I was able to hit over 100 with one quad, so clearly it comes from the marks other than the jumps,” Chan said. “That’s the highlight for me today, that I was able to do that at an ISU (International Skating Union) event finally.”
A debate has raged for years over the four-revolution jumps and their place in men’s skating, and this year’s emergence of teenage stars such as American Nathan Chen and China’s Jin Boyang — who learn new quad jumps the way kids take to new technology — has taken it to new heights.
After his silver medal at the Sochi Olympics, the 26-year-old Chan returned from a one-year hiatus to a completely altered landscape.
These are the first world championships that have seen five different quads — Lutz, loop, toe loop, flip, and Salchow. The sixth would be the quad Axel, which no one has done.
Chan found himself playing catchup. The nine-time Canadian champion hoped his superior skating skills could keep him in contention.
“I felt a bit of an underdog ever since my comeback year because of how the sport has changed so quickly in such a short time,” said Chan. “I have to remind myself: what are my strengths? Because I am in a whole different situation, a whole different generation of skaters than I was when I won my first world title.
“I have to remember and remind myself of the little victories. That’s the only way I can hang with these guys.”
Fernandez, who like Chan is an excellent all-around skater, was asked about the quad issue in the post-skate news conference.
“I think you just came up with the question of the year,” Fernandez said, prompting laughter. ”When you see the judges realize what is good skating, or good transitions, or good interpretation, and they value that … it doesn’t matter how many quads you do in the program, I think it’s the right thing to do. And if you can create great elements with great skating, then you’re going to be world champion if you skate amazing.
“But if you do great jumps, but you don’t have the skating, you should not be there. If we lose something that is figure skating, then we’re going to lose everything. So, I think I can say watching Patrick, he only has one quad, everybody knows in this room how good Patrick Chan is skating. I can say it a thousand times.
“And when he gets it, when he gets a reward everyone is happy because it’s what it’s supposed to be. It’s fair.”
His response earned applause from the international media, and a grateful pat on the back and smile from Chan.
Still, to be in contention for an Olympic medal next year, Chan’s coach Marina Zoueva said they will work this summer on adding a second quad to the short program.
The coach, who Chan began working with this past fall, said the difference in skating skills between Fernandez and Chan and the rest of the field was obvious Thursday. She chalked it up to experience and maturity.
“That becomes the performance. They not just do jumps, they perform the jump,” she said through her thick Russian accent. ”They not just do the spin, they perform the spin. They not just do the movement, they perform the movement. That’s why performance level also high.
“Even as younger skaters did difficult tricks, but they need to learn how to perform the way how Patrick and Javier perform.”
Quads will be an even bigger factor in Saturday’s long program. Chan has three in his long program, but has never landed all three. Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu has five. There’s talk Chen could attempt a whopping six.
Jin and Chen received the highest scores for their quads Thursday, but finished back in fourth and sixth respectively, largely due to their lower component (formerly artistic impression) scores.
Later Thursday, two-time world champions Eric Radford and Meagan Duhamel held on to finish seventh in pairs competition. Radford battled through an injury as the duo finished with 206.06 points for their shaky program to the French song “Non, je ne regrette rien.”
Canada’s Lubov Ilyushechkina and Dylan Moscovitch finished sixth, and the combined results form the two teams ensured Canada would be able to send three pairs teams to the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.