BOSTON - After watching on television as Yuzuru Hanyu lit up the figure skating firmament with four straight record performances at the end of last fall’s Grand Prix series, I had been waiting impatiently to see him live and in person for the first time since the 2014 Olympics.
And it was worth every second of the wait.
What did I see? Two quadruple jumps that defied gravity, exquisite spins, stunning speed across the ice, a perfect match of mood to a Chopin Ballade, passion that screamed as loudly as he did at the end of Wednesday’s short program in the World Figure Skating Championships at TD Garden.
Once again, the 21-year-old from Japan showed he is from another universe than the terrestrial skaters who try to compete against him.
He beat them all easily. Again.
The only score he couldn’t beat was his own world record for the short program, no surprise given that it is nearly nine points higher than any other skater’s in history.
Competing against the impossibly high standard he has set seemingly is the only challenge left at this point for Hanyu.
Not that he didn’t come close, with a score of 110.56 that fell just .39 short of the mark he set at the Grand Prix Final in December. Hanyu is more than 12 points ahead of second-place Javier Fernandez (98.52) of Spain, the defending champion, going into Friday’s free skate final.
And Hanyu noted there was room to improve on the speed and quality of the quadruple toe loop and on the step sequence, which was judged only level three (of a maximum four). He had 17 perfect component scores, getting at least one 10.0 in each the five component area except transitions / linking footwork.
“I do feel the expectations of my standard. I do feel the pressure,” Hanyu said.
“But it didn’t affect my performance. I want to really enjoy my skating, and I think I showed that today.”
The reigning Olympic champion admitted to a different nervousness than he has felt in the past, an unsettled feeling with a reason or origin he could not pinpoint. Some of it could have come from a near collision with Kazakhstan's Denis Ten in a Wednesday morning practice. So Hanyu screamed in joy and relief when the short program was over.
“To put out a very good program with those feelings is why I showed my emotions so strongly,” he said.
Three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada finished third at 94.84, despite a fall on his triple axel. The top two U.S. men, Adam Rippon (85.72) and Max Aaron (81.28), were seventh and eighth, respectively.
Rippon gambled he could stay in contention with a clean short program that did not include a quad. He did just that and likely has no shot at a medal but is within reach of fourth-place Shoma Uno of Japan (90.74).
Fernandez took the opposite gamble. He added a second quad in the short program to give himself a better chance of staying within reach of Hanyu. That might have been possible if the second quad, a salchow, had not ended in a fall that cost him at least 4.5 points.
“Adding the second quad is really difficult,” Fernandez said. “We knew it brings more risk to make mistakes.”
The truth is, Hanyu cannot lose unless he makes more than one mistake in the free skate. He is not infallible. He made a hash of the free skate at last year's worlds, where he finished second.
But he is what Tina Turner had in mind when she sang, “Simply the best. Better than all the rest. Better than anyone. Anyone I’ve ever met.”
And, given the unprecedented technical level he has reached, a flawless Hanyu simply is better than anyone his sport ever has seen.