The organisers of the 2015 World Junior Championships decided that the men would bring the curtain down on the competition at the Tondiraba Icehall and it was by far the most intriguing and hard to predict event of the week.
By virtue of his decisive win at the Junior Grand Prix Final and placing second at Japanese Nationals, Shoma Uno was installed as the prime contender to take the title. The first obstacle that he needed to navigate was the short programme and most crucially the proscribed triple Lutz, a jump that he has no problems admitting is not his best. After a glorious triple Axel and two Level 4 spins, Uno flung himself into the Lutz and just about hung on to land it cleanly. The rest of the short was a doddle and he amassed a score of 84.87 to give himself an almost eight point gap over the rest of the field.
His closest challengers going into the free skating were both from Russia. Just as Uno had dipped his toes in the senior waters at Four Continents, so too had Adian Pitkeev at Europeans in January where he finished seventh and Alexei Mishin trained Alexander Petrov who had won three senior internationals this season. They were lying in second and third respectively after the short.
Uno was second to last to go in the free and he looked tense as he was sent off to the centre of the ice by coach Mihoko Higuchi. Once the music from the film “Don Juan de Marco” kicked in, he set off on his approach to a quadruple toe loop, but he aborted it mid-air into a triple that was subsequently downgraded. He steadied himself with two triple Axels and from there on in he played it smart and conservatively. He landed five triples and garnered Level 4 for two of his spins and his footwork sequence. A total of 232.54 gave him his first World Junior title and Japan’s first since Yuzuru Hanyu in 2010. It was also the first medal for Japan in the men’s event since 2011.
The only man to rise to the occasion and beat Uno in the free was Boyang Jin. The 2013 Junior Grand Prix Final had failed to medal at World Juniors in 2014 and then come fourth in Barcelona in December of last year resulting in him not being able to defend his Junior Grand Prix Final crown. In Tallinn, he had fallen behind in the short to stand in fifth place before the free. Jin dug out everything in his arsenal and produced a quad Salchow, two quad toes, a triple Axel and six triple jumps to set a new personal best of 156.85. A total of 229.70 was not quite enough to knock Uno off his perch, but it gave Jin silver and his first World Junior medal.
Sota Yamamoto hadn’t even made it to the final group for the free. The 2014 Junior Grand Prix Final silver medallist had botched a triple Axel in the short and seemed to be out of contention for any medal. Perhaps due to the pressure being off him, Yamamoto was able to accomplish a clean programme in the free with two triple Axels and six triple jumps. It brought him up to third overall on a score of 215.45. It was the first time that two Japanese men stood on the podium together at World Juniors.
While Yamamoto had been a long shot for a medal, even fewer thought that returning 2014 World Junior Nathan Chen would have a hope in hell of getting on the rostrum after being shunted down to ninth in the short. However, the young American rallied in the free and missed out on repeating his result from last year by less than two points.
The Russian challenge faded spectacularly with Pitkeev dropping to fifth and Petrov to sixth in the final standings after subpar free skates. Below them in seventh place was Dennis Vassiljevs who set personal bests in all phases of the competition and earned the second highest programme component scores of the free behind Uno. The Latvian is definitely one to watch when he masters the triple Axel.
The World Junior Figure Skating Championships will be held in Debrecen, Hungary in 2016.