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Reflecting on Worlds: Practice Shenanigans

  • Reflecting on Worlds: Practice Shenanigans

    Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan falls on the ice during the official practice session of the NHK Trophy ISU Grand Prix figure skating 2014 in Osaka on November 27, 2014. The three-day competition will start from November 28. AFP PHOTO / TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA (Photo credit should read TOSHIFUMI KITAMURA/AFP/Getty Images)

Right of Way

1. The skater doing a routine to music has the right of way... Please stay aware of which skater is doing his or her routine and do your best to stay clear of his or her pattern...

- from US Figure Skating's "Basic Ice Usage and Free Skating Safety Etiquette Rules"

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Of course, each rink, in each country, has their own variants on these rules, but the general rules about right of way are the same the world over. The ultimate right of way belongs to the skater "in program" - that is, the skater who has their program music playing at the time. No matter how high or low the level, or how many other people are on the ice, everyone else must get out of that skater's way.

In Boston, this all became very relevant, very quickly, and explosively, on the Wednesday morning.

The groups for practice were divided by nationality: for example in the men, the three Americans, the two Spaniards and the Frenchman were in one group. Immediately after them on the ice on Tuesday night was a group comprising the two Japanese men, Shoma Uno and Yuzuru Hanyu, the Brit, Phillip Harris, the German, Franz Streubel, the Australian, Brendan Kerry, and, fatefully, the Kazakhstani, Denis Ten. In terms of accomplishments, it was a mixed group: Harris, Streubel and Kerry would all be skating in the earlier groups due to their lower world rankings, while Uno, Hanyu and Ten were all skating in the coveted last group.

Official practice has a very set layout. The skaters are given a six minute warmup, the same as in competition; then their music is played, one after the other, as the skaters do run-throughs. It is a very formalised practice session.

Naturally, the most attention was being paid to the Japanese men, particularly Yuzuru Hanyu. I, meanwhile, was watching my countryman Brendan Kerry, since I could not guarantee there would be any reports about anything I missed. I was watching parts of Hanyu's runthrough (this is very difficult to watch two skaters at once)...and suddenly Ten appeared straight across Hanyu's path. I remember thinking, "Oi, Denis, watch out!". Later, it happened again.

And then in closed practice on Wednesday morning, Ten began spinning right on the line of Hanyu's triple Axel, while Hanyu's music was playing and he was in a run through. Hanyu called to Ten to get out of his way, had to change his line at the last minute, fell, and punched the boards in frustration.

And all hell broke loose.

Accusations started flying thick and fast. Hanyu accused Ten of doing it on purpose. Fans waged war on the internet, both factions blaming each other. Ten fans called Hanyu a diva. Hanyu fans started abusing Ten's nationality. It all got very ugly, and it got uglier. Ten gave an interview in which he blithely suggested that Hanyu wasn't used to so many people. Ten's coach, the respected Frank Carroll, inexplicably defended his student.

It was a relief when the competition started and everyone was focusing on other things.

To be clear: Denis Ten was completely, 100% at fault for the incident. Hanyu's music was playing, Hanyu was in program. Hanyu had right of way and should not have had to move for anyone. It is common for a skater in program to call out to others to move, and they should do so.

It was also the third time in two days that Ten had cut Hanyu off during Hanyu's music, and it soon came out that Hanyu had spoken with Ten on the Tuesday night, which Ten had ignored, refusing any responsibility.

There are plenty of theories and opinions on the matter, but three times in two sessions, no matter how you look at it, is bad. For it to happen a third time after the parties spoke was even worse.

Once is an accident. Twice is carelessness. But three times...?

It was one of the week's more unpleasant talking points.

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