Chen wins 3rd straight figure skating world title

STOCKHOLM — Nathan Chen put himself in the company of history’s best figure skaters, becoming the first American since Scott Hamilton to win a third consecutive men’s title at the World Figure Skating Championships.

Chen was dynamic in easily surpassing two-time Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan in the free skate and stamping himself as the man to beat at next year’s Beijing Olympics. Indeed, Hanyu struggled enough Saturday to fall to third place behind 17-year-old countryman Yuma Kagiyama, who took silver in his first senior worlds.

“I wouldn’t say this is my best free program ever,” Chen said. “But it’s one I will definitely remember forever and cherish, being able to skate like that and skate this piece here at worlds.”

His “Quad King” reputation well-founded, Chen landed five four-rotation jumps with a ferocity. His balance of artistry and technique has improved since 2017, when Chen won his first of five successive U.S. titles.

“The fact I’m able to be here at this world championships after this unprecedented year, it’s amazing. I’m elated right now,” Chen said. “I just tried to really remind myself to enjoy being here. I don’t know how many more world championships I’ll get to be at. Doing that, I was able to be a lot more calm.”

The look on Chen’s face at the conclusion of his free skate was intensely focused rather than celebratory.

He had to wait out Hanyu’s performance, which was, for the Japanese star, rather pedestrian. He opened up on two jumps, had sloppy landings on others and seemed to know it was not nearly enough when he shook his head before taking a bow and leaving the ice.

“Coming into this competition I have been working a lot on my quad axel and so I have overworked my body,” Hanyu said. “So it is important to get my body well. I want to go back to practicing it again. I want to be the very first person to land it cleanly in an official competition.”

Kagiyama couldn’t sit still awaiting his marks after a personal best by 11 points in which he landed three quads and, despite a couple of bobbles, was a solid second to Chen in the free skate. Kagiyama leaped and ran in place in the kiss-and-cry zone, then sat and practically danced in his seat as the magnitude of his achievement hit home.

Hamilton won four successive worlds from 1981 to ’84. Since then, three others — Canada’s Kurt Browning and Patrick Chan, and Russia’s Alexei Yagudin — have gotten three in a row.

Chen, 21, has not lost a competition since the 2018 Olympics, when perhaps the worst short program of his career doomed him. He rallied with a spectacular free skate to climb from 17th place to fifth.

He’s been unmatched since, winning at worlds, nationals, Skate Americas and Grand Prix Finals.

“I am looking forward to next season and what everyone else brings to the table,” Chen said, “and challenging myself to be as good as I can be.”

A fourth-place finish for Mikhail Kolyada assured Russia, which is having an outstanding worlds, of three men’s spots at Beijing. The United States and Japan also are assured three spots.

American Jason Brown, who doesn’t have the bigger jumps to match the medalists but is masterful at artistry, finished seventh.

Later Saturday is the free dance to finish the first worlds since 2019. Last year’s event was canceled because of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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