Concluding the 2023 World Championships in Saitama, Japan, was the Men’s discipline. It was an intense and exciting competition that put on display the plethora of different styles and approaches that every skater brought to the ice, as well as each of their personal narratives and achievements, from final Worlds performances, first medals for nations, and history-making jumps. Here is a round-up of some of the key moments from the event!
🥇 Shoma Uno (Japan)
🥈 Junhwan Cha (South Korea)
🥉 Ilia Malinin (USA)
Winning a back-to-back gold medal and becoming a two-time World champion was Shoma Uno of Japan, breaking the 300-point barrier with a total score of 301.14 points. The reigning world champion confessed he had struggled in practices leading up to the competition and suffered from an injury right before the short program, but didn’t let such difficulties show in his performances. His SP to John Mayer’s ‘Gravity’ saw him land a quad flip, quad toe-double toe, and a triple axel. Although he didn’t add a triple toe-loop in combination, and this achievement has often remained elusive to the skater, it was still enough to take the lead over Ilia Malinin with 104.63 points given for the performance. His step sequence contained beautiful extended twizzles; Uno lingered on each movement and committed to every detail of the choreography, expressing the nuances of the guitar in this instrumental section and earning applause throughout the last few elements. His free skate to ‘Air on the G String’ and ‘Mea tormenta, properate’ was a five-quad program, with all jumps landed, although the salchow was judged as underrotated and was a step out, and the two quad toeloops were deemed as landed on the quarter. With furthermore just a single toe added onto the second quad toeloop, it was thus not a perfect performance, and one where the TES clearly had the potential to be higher; nevertheless, level fours were given to all spins and the step sequence, and the choreo sequence used the body and music to the maximum, filling each bar of the piece. Uno matched the change in tempo and tonality between the two pieces of music with skill, building up to the climax of the program and using the step sequence to express its intensity; he has often turned to classical music for his programs, but succeeds in making each different and new, adding his own character and interpretation to the baroque choices. The free skate total was 196.51, just 0.12 points higher than Junhwan Cha, but this slim margin, coupled with his lead from the short program, was enough to win him a consecutive World gold medal.
Junhwan Cha of South Korea came in second place with 296.03 points, and became the first Korean man to win a medal at the World Championships. His short program, a Michael Jackson medley, works very well for him and he delivered a clean skate, opening with a stunning quad salchow with a GOE of +4.02 before going on to nail his trademark triple lutz-triple loop combination as well as the triple axel. There is choreography embedded into every part of the program and between its elements, which made for a highly entertaining skate and a crowd-pleasing performance. Cha’s step sequence was a highlight and displayed character and creativity in motion. With a short program score of 99.64, he just missed out on the 100-point barrier. His free skate was another flawless performance apart from a triple flip with an unclear edge and a -0.08 grade of execution. He emulated the James Bond music with magnetism and opened with a quad salchow given +4.16, and a quad toe-loop given +3.53. He earned high grades of execution in other jumps, spins, and sequences, reflecting the top quality of his skating. Cha captured the alluring and mysterious quality of the opening of ‘No Time to Die’, and retained the level of choreographic intensity even in the closing sections of the program, where fatigue is no doubt felt. He closed with a beautiful Ina Bauer and received a total free skate score of 196.39.
In third place was Ilia Malinin of the USA, with 288.44 points. Malinin delivered a clean short program in Japan after struggling this season to put out a mistake-free performance. He opened with a flawless quad lutz-triple toe combination with +3.45 GOE, following this up with a quad toe-loop and triple axel; these elements contributed 42.33 points towards his TES of 59.49. He furthermore received level fours on all other elements and added a difficult exit to his final spin to secure valuable extra points. Garou’s rendition of ‘I Put A Spell On You’ is a smart choice for his first season competing fully as a senior, as it pushes him to explore his artistic qualities and improve as a performer: he is beginning to use his laudable flexibility more in transitions and spins, and interacted with the audience throughout the performance, such as in the knee slide in the step sequence. Over the course of the season, he has developed the attention dedicated towards this instrumental section, with its emphatic pauses and accents, and brought out the charisma of his skating here. In his free skate to pieces of music from the show ‘Euphoria’, he went for an ambitious and high-risk six-quad program, landing all jumping passes, which alone is an unfathomable feat. He started with the quad axel, which has quickly become an element he is associated with, and his track record for the jump this season is nothing short of impressive; in Saitama, it covered 2.96m in distance and was 0.84m high. He struggled to cleanly land the quad flip and lutz following this, and both jumping passes were later judged as landed on the quarter. Nonetheless, he followed up with a quality quad salchow that earned 12.46 points in total. His second quad lutz was marked as underrotated, making for three jumps with a negative GOE. Despite this, two spins and the step sequence were all rewarded with a level four. With a PCS of 80.98, almost 10 points lower than silver medalist Junhwan Cha, a clear message is delivered that, despite his technical prowess, there is much room to grow in terms of the composition, presentation, and skating skills; the slight changes in the choreography and transitions in his free skate with every outing that he has undertaken this season reflects the motivation to achieve this.
Fifth after the short program but fourth overall was Kevin Aymoz of France. His short program is to music from ‘Euphoria’ by Labrinth, similar to Ilia Malinin’s free skate, but takes a vastly differing approach. The choreography is charged with magnetism and charismatic appeal; Aymoz is a skater who ensures that no detail in the music, and no beat or intricacy, is left unnoticed, using his whole body to express the song choices. The skate contained creative and contemporary movements, generating a program not viewed so much as comprising seven distinct elements, but rather becoming a whole, fleshed-out performance. It was a clean skate with positive grades of execution across all elements (including the quad toeloop-triple toeloop combination) and all spins and the step sequence were judged as a level four. Aymoz showed an effortless aerial in the step sequence and used his penultimate spin to transition into the faster, up-tempo ‘Nate Growing Up’ section. His free skate, which uses selections of music from ‘Gladiator’ to portray the narrative of the novel ‘The Song of Achilles’, was the strongest skate of his career yet, making for a new personal best of 187.41 and surpassing his previous PB by almost ten points. He only included one quadruple jump, the toe-loop, but the high TES of 96.66 reveals the high quality of every jump and the other elements, with flow coming out of each jumping pass. He merged artistry with athleticism as always, and it was an emotional and celebratory performance.
Jason Brown of the USA put out two clean and top-quality programs to come in fifth place. All jumping passes were landed with high grades of execution in his short program to ‘Melancholy’ by Alexei Kosenko. His step sequence demonstrated balletic fluidity and was a masterclass in skating, with Brown fully engaging his torso and arms; the spins showcased seamless transitions between positions. The elegance of his skating was etched into every movement of the choreography, and he earned standing ovations for the emotive and breathtaking performance. His PCS was the second highest at 46.34 after Shoma Uno, and was the highest in the free skate at 95.84. Skating to ‘The Impossible Dream’, he went for quality in the jumps with no quads, and delivered this, with fluidity into and out of each jumping pass. His spins, all level fours, demonstrate commitment to extensions and lines, and the choreo and step sequences reflected his unparalleled artistry. Another emotive performance, the free skate earned 185.87 in total and was the fifth-highest score.
Kazuki Tomono of Japan finished in sixth place in front of the home audience in Saitama Super Arena. His short program is choreographed to ‘Happy Jazz’: it is no mean feat to perform to and express such choice of music with the natural ease that he does. Tomono had a hard fall on the quad salchow after landing the opening quad toe-triple toe with remarkable flow, but did not let this affect the vivacity of his skating and went on to land the triple axel with security. Like always, he really sold the performance in the step sequence, playing with the spectators and exuding an irresistible positive energy: the skate received a season’s best of 92.68 despite the fall. His free skate to the overture of ‘Die Fledermaus’ is a classy yet fun program, which showed the strength of both his TES and PCS capabilities. Although there was a fall on the quad toe-loop, he landed two other quads, including a brilliant quad salchow this time. Misha Ge’s choreography suits him well, and the performance built up towards a triumphant choreo sequence which was given +1.93 in GOE by the judges.
Other notable competitors included Keegan Messing from Canada, showcasing two emotive performances in his last World Championships. He was fourth after the short program but had only the eleventh-highest free skate and dropped to a seventh-place finish. He put out a clean short program with a quality quad toe-triple toe combination performed with great speed, and followed this up with a great triple axel and triple lutz: the height and distance of his jumps are noteworthy. Messing’s ice coverage is remarkable, and he demonstrates seeming nonchalance while pulling off difficult elements; the intricate footwork throughout the step sequence brought to life the exuberant, upbeat ‘Grace Kelly’, and was performed with an infectious smile. In his free skate, he nailed two quad toe-loops, but popped one of his axel attempts into a single. He furthermore lost balance on his first spin, making it a voided element. Despite these mistakes, however, it was an unforgettable program and a final Worlds performance from an irreplaceable athlete: the crowd in Japan was given a heartwarming skate, which reminded us all of his sheer talent as a skater.
Lukas Britschgi of Switzerland finished a successful season with an eighth-place finish and a total of 257.34 points. He has stated that when selecting music for programs, he chooses more contemporary pieces which correspond with his personal taste in music, and the enthusiasm he possesses for ‘Another Level’ shone through in his short program, bringing the audience members with him. The skate was delivered with verve and was clean, error-free save from a doubled second jump following his opening quad toeloop: all jumps were landed on the beat and accented the music. Britschgi’s step sequence was given a level four and was an area where he could showcase his showmanship. In his free skate, he performed to a Japan-inspired program, committing to the style throughout and retaining the energy needed to deliver this choreography. He opened with a great quad toe-double toe with +2.44 GOE, and whilst he popped the following toe-loop into a triple, he racked up good grades of execution over the course of the skate, and the PB of 171.16 was enough to put him in the lead over Matteo Rizzo after his performance.
Despite having a disappointing short program and coming thirteenth after the first day, Matteo Rizzo of Italy delivered the seventh-highest-scoring free skate to finish in ninth place. The 2023 European silver medalist skated to a Måneskin medley for his short program; it is a great choice of music as the first song enabled him to showcase the elegance of his skating, whilst the uptempo second song was where his footwork and charismatic performance abilities could really shine. Rizzo opened with a strong quad toe-triple toe combination, but struggled in his two other jumping passes, falling on the subsequent quad loop and popping his axel into just a single: costly errors which lost him crucial points. He came back strongly in the free skate, however, and brushed off the mistakes from before, showcasing a high-quality performance and landing two quads including the loop. Although his third quad attempt did not have sufficient revolutions and was judged as a triple, he was secure in other parts of the program. The Bruno Mars melody has a complete change in tonality between the ‘Talking to the Moon’ and ‘That’s What I Like’ sections, and Rizzo is skilled at fully engaging with the spectators; he is a great mover and dancer. The free skate score was a season’s best of 176.76.
2023 European Champion Adam Siao Him Fa of France finished tenth in Saitama. He had errors in all three jumping passes (quad toe-loop, triple axel, quad salchow) in the short program, missing out on the jump combination. Interestingly, he opts for placing all three jumping passes in the first half of the program, and thus needed to rely on his spins and step sequence after these mistakes. He showcased a passionate, emotional performance to ‘Rain, In Your Black Eyes’ with creative and original choreography which links to his free skate, using motifs of movement in both programs. His free skate thus started with similar motions before reversing this choreographic phrase, in what was a memorable and eye-catching opening. Whilst there were deductive grades of execution in the three first jumping passes, with a fall from the triple axel, he recovered from this to land a quad salchow with +2.49 GOE, and positive grades of execution were given to all elements thereafter. Even though he places most of his jumping passes in succession, the transitional content prevents it from becoming dull. He is a skater who covers the ice with remarkable speed, especially in the step and choreo sequences: there is a great elevation to his movements in these sections, all whilst showing devotion to the choreography and its finer details.
Deniss Vasiljevs of Latvia was thirteenth after his two performances. His short program to ‘Englishman in New York’ saw him land the opening quad salchow, albeit with an under-rotation and a negative grade of execution of -3.10. His second jump of his 3Lz-3T combination was also underrotated, lowering the TES to 40.37. The choice of music lets his strength as a performer be foregrounded, with a breezy lightness to the choreography and his interpretation of the music, all while pulling off intricate steps in the step sequence. The spins, a forte of his, were all level four quality and showed neat positions and beautiful lines. His free skate to Dvorak’s ‘New World Symphony’ is of a starkly different tone and was given a standing ovation. Although there was a step out of the opening quad salchow, and two other jumping passes (3A-2A and 3F) were also given negative GOEs, he showed quality elsewhere, with all spins a level four once more. Vasiljevs matched the increasing grandeur of the piece stride for stride, and moved completely at one with the challenging piece. He succeeded in reflecting the classical yet modern quality of the symphony with ease.