Javier Fernandez, a skater with duende, has transcendent triumph

BOSTON - There was a transcendent performance at the 2016 World Figure Skating Championships.

It came not from Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, the man who had been doing otherworldly stuff all season, but from Javier Fernández, the defending champion whom Hanyu had overshadowed.

His was, simply, the greatest free skate in the history of the world championships, whether you judge it by the point total or the total package of jump difficulty, entertainment quality, competitive courage and stylistic sass Fernández showed Friday night before a near-sellout crowd at TD Garden.

The best way to describe it is with the Spanish word duende. No matter that the word has no exact translation but has come to connote ideas like passion, magnetism, inspiration and guts that add up to an intangible sense of genius.

That -- all of it -- is what Fernández embodied on another step in the improbable journey that has taken a 24-year-old from a country with no figure skating tradition to consecutive world titles and four straight European championships.

On top of that, the second title came on a night when Fernández challenged himself to try the most difficult program content of his career despite a right heel inflammation that made it impossible to practice productively the past two days. He thanked the event's medical team for the treatment, including an ultrasound, that made it possible for him to skate at all, let alone give a performance for the ages.

Fernández had three flawless quadruple jumps, one in a quad-triple combination, with two getting the highest possible Grades of Execution (GOEs) one can achieve. He did two triple axels for the first time in one of his three-quad free skates. He gave a presentation of Frank Sinatra's Guys and Dolls so pitch-perfect, in interpretation and skating prowess, that 26 of his 45 component scores were perfect 10s.

"I actually don't know how I did it," Fernández said. "Sometimes it doesn't matter what happened before."

It didn't matter that Hanyu, the Olympic champion and Fernández' training partner under coach Brian Orser, had a seemingly insurmountable lead of more than 12 points after the short program, when the Spaniard fell on one jump and the Japanese skater missed topping his world record score by less than half a point.

"Before skating, I knew I had a chance to win but that I had to do a clean program, and I did," Fernández said.

A combination of Hanyu's flawed skating and Fernández' brilliance allowed the Spaniard to win by more than 19 points, 314.93 to 295.17. Fernández' free skate score, 216.41, is the second highest ever, behind only Hanyu's 219.48 from this season's Grand Prix Final.

Hanyu put his hand down on the landings of two jumps, a quad and a triple, fell on a second quad and had four negative GOEs. He looked lifeless at points in his 4 minutes, 30 seconds on the ice.

The 2014 Olympic and world champion now has finished second to Fernández at the world championships the past two years.

"I can't explain my feelings," Hanyu said. "I am really tired and really happy for Javi. But I am really sad for my long program. I want to do it again."

China's Boyang Jin slogged his way into third (270.99), becoming the first Chinese man to win a world medal, when three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada fell apart to finish eighth in the free skate.

As has happened in the past, the judges still were overly generous to Chan, and that cost the United States a third men's spot at the 2017 World Championships. Chan wound up fifth overall, 2.31 points ahead of Rippon. Had their places been reversed, Rippon and Max Aaron (eighth) would have had the requisite total (13) to keep the third spot.

In a bittersweet touch, Rippon, Aaron and Grant Hochstein (10th) all had career-highlight free skates and gave the United States three men in the top 10 for the first time since 2005. (This was the eighth time the U.S. had three men's entrants in that span.)

The revelation of the week was world championships rookie Mikhail Kolyada, 21, of Russia, who did two clean programs -- with a successful quad in each -- to finish fourth, just three points behind Jin.

In the end, though, it mattered little what anyone but Fernández did. The man from Madrid was a winner with duende. It is rare and hard to define but wonderful to recognize.

(This article originally appeared on icenetwork.)