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Reflecting on Worlds: Javier's Amazing Comeback

  • Reflecting on Worlds: Javier's Amazing Comeback

    BOSTON, MA - APRIL 01: Javier Fernandez of Spain skates in the Men's Free Skate program during Day 5 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts. (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)

When the crowd filtered out of the TD Garden following the men's short program, the final result seemed a foregone conclusion. Yuzuru Hanyu's short program was so exquisite, and his points lead so huge, that there was no way the men's World Champion would be anyone other than him.

...was there?

For context, twelve points - the margin between Hanyu and Spain's Javier Fernandez, who was second - is huge in figure skating. It's the sort of margin that assures a victory. It's the sort of margin that, all things being equal, should not be surmounted.

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And then there was the form question. Hanyu's short had been impeccable. On the other hand, a lot of fans had felt that Fernandez's score - 98 - with a fall on the quad Salchow, was rather generous. Fernandez had also had some problems at European Championships, while Hanyu's impressive form had involved him smashing the world record twice this season.

But everything changed on the night of the free skate. Hanyu was nervous, anxious, and desperate; as the program wore on, and the mistakes began to build, those twelve points were whittled away. He still posted the sort of score, however, that required any potential challengers to be on top form.

The whispers that had been running through the fans that morning were hardly encouraging. Reports from the practice rink said that Fernandez's ankle was heavily strapped and iced and that he had struggled with his jumps. He was even in doubt for turning up; experts were expecting him to withdraw.

And then he came onto the ice to start.

Javier cuts a dashing figure on the ice at any time, but dolled up in smart trousers, shirt and suspenders and skating to Guys and Dolls, he becomes even more charming. And on a day like that, relaxed and confident, it got even better.

When he opened with an absolutely perfect quadruple toe, the whole arena gasped in joy. There was no hesitation, no  indication of any problems. He followed it quickly with a quad Salchow triple toe combination, and it was immediately obvious: he was on fire. He had come to win.

The triple Axel double toe combination came after, and once again it was faultless. He followed it with a charming, delightful step sequence, playing to the crowd and looking as though he was having the time of his life out there. The change-foot sit spin followed seamlessly, and as Frank Sinatra began to croon about Lady Luck, it became increasingly apparent that Javier was going to capitalise on every ounce of luck he could get his hands on.

The second half of the program began with another flawless quadruple Salchow - once again beautifully done, straight in the air, and no hesitation on the landing. It was followed by the three jump combination at the other end of the rink - the triple flip-half loop-triple Salchow, and the minor slip on the landing was the only flaw in the whole performance.

By now, the crowd knew they were watching something special, and the roar that went up when Javier landed the second triple Axel was as loud as any there had been that week. As Javier charmed his way through his transitions, the crowd began to clap along to the music; clapping that turned into fierce applause when he landed the triple Lutz.

The choreographed sequence followed, Javier grinning to the crowd, who were revelling openly in his enjoyment; then he topped it all with a triple loop that landed as softly as if he had landed on a pillow. His change foot combination spin seemed perfectly timed to the music, and the cheering of the crowd never really dimmed; we were cheering all the way from that spin to the final flying combination spin, and we were standing before he had finished the program.

Every one of us knew we had seen something absolutely incredible. At the moment of asking, under the pump, and potentially injured, Javier had delivered, and he had delivered big. The only question mark lay over how big the score would get. We soon found out: Javier had laid down a 216 free skate, one of the highest scores ever, to carry him over 314 total points, and to an undisputed second World title.

There are plenty ready to write it off as Lady Luck. And yes, part of the great comeback involved Hanyu having an unexpectedly poor performance. But that is part of the sport, and Javier still had to bring it.

Hanyu may have left the door ajar, but that night in Boston, Javier Fernandez blew it off its hinges. And it was glorious.

You can watch Javier's amazing free skate here.

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