Going into Saturday’s Free Skate, two-time defending World Champion Nathan Chen of the U.S. was in a hole.
He had finished only third in the Short Program, scoring 98.85 points to 106.98 for two-time Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan, and also behind his teammate Yuma Kagiyama, in his first ISU World Figure Skating Championships.
But Chen’s reign as World Champion has been marked by steely concentration when he has needed it most and he produced a sensational Free Skate, including five quadruple jumps, to score a stunning 222.03 points to run away with the competition, at the Ericsson Globe arena in Stockholm (SWE).
Kagiyama had the unenviable task of following Chen, but skated well and scored 190.81. Hanyu, skating last, needed 213.91 to win, but was not in the same form as in the Short Program and scored just 89.78 to place fourth in the Free Skate and dropped to third overall.
Chen’s final tally of 320.88 points ended up winning by a superb 29.11 points over Kagiyama (291.77), followed by Hanyu (289.18), Japan’s Shoma Uno (277.44) and Russian Mikhail Kokyada (272.04). American Jason Brown finished seventh with 262.17.
Said the winner, still just 21: “It’s amazing; the fact that I’m able to be here at this World Championship after that unprecedented year; I’m very happy to be here. I’m very elated right now.
“I just didn’t want to lose that (quad) Lutz again. I had struggled on it a little bit at Nationals as well to start off my free program [where he fell] and I always don’t like starting with an error; it’s hard to regroup after that. My intent was ‘hit the Lutz, move on.’ In theory I can come back, but realistically I know these guys are going to lay [it] down [and I wanted] to be able to leave this competition satisfied with how I skated in the free. I was able to do that so I’m pretty thrilled.”
Chen’s third straight Worlds win is the first time since Canada’s Patrick Chan did it in 2011-12-13 and the first time by an American since Scott Hamilton won four in a row from 1981-84. The record is seven by Austria’s Karl Schaefer from 1930-36.
Russian skaters dominated the Women’s and Pairs.
Anna Shcherbakova, 16, won her first World Championships gold in her first appearance, winning the Short Program and finishing a very close second in the Free Skate. Her total of 233.17 – a lifetime best – was enough to outlast 2015 World Champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (24, 220.46 ~ third in both the Short Program and Free Skate) and teammate Alexandra Trusova (16, 217.20 ~ winner of the Free Skate., also in her first Worlds).
The Russian sweep was the first in the women’s division since 1991, when the U.S. trio of Kristi Yamaguchi, Tonya Harding and Nancy Kerrigan went 1-2-3. Russian women have now won five of the last six World titles and won 10 of the 18 total medals awarded in that span.
China’s Wenjing Sui and Cong Han entered as defending Pairs champs and had won two of the last three World titles, but lost out to first-time Worlds performers Anastasia Mishna (19) and Aleksandr Galliamov (21) of Russia.
Russian skaters Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii, in their second Worlds, led after the Short Program, with Sui and Han second. But Mishna and Galliamov rallied during the Free Skate and won it with 151.80 points to 148.09 for the Chinese, with Boikova and Kozlovskii dropping to fourth. That gave Mishna and Galliamov the gold medal at 227.59, to 225.71 for Sui and Han and 217.63 for Boikova and Kozlovskii. Two-time Worlds silver medalists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov ended up a disappointed fourth (212.76).
American skaters Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier finished seventh (192.10) and Ashley Cain-Gibble and Timothy Leduc were ninth (185.31).
The powerful U.S. Ice Dance entries had earned medals in five straight World Championships and were in good positions for more as Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue and Madison Chock and Evan Bates stood 2-3 after the Rhythm Dance behind reigning Worlds silver medalists Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia: 88.15-86.05-85.15.
Canada’s Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier put heavy pressure on the leaders with a 130.98 score in the Free Dance, and Chock and Bates fell behind them, scoring 127.54. Hubbell and Donohue were better, scoring 128.66 and standing second as Sinitsina and Katsalapov took the ice.
But the Russians came through with a brilliant, winning score of 133.02 to move up from second in 2019, and finished with 221.17 total points, to 214.71 for Hubbell and Donohue and 214.35 for Gilles and Poirier. Madison and Donohue won their third Worlds medal in succession, after a silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019.
The third American entry, Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker, finished ninth (188.51).
The Championships will finish on Sunday with an exhibition from the medal winners. The ISU announced two positive Covid tests among he 184 skaters entered for the week-long event, which otherwise was able to be held to the surprise of many within the skating community.