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Chen eclipses Hanyu to set pace at world figure skate

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Saitama (Japan) (AFP)

Reigning champion Nathan Chen stole Yuzuru Hanyu's thunder Thursday with a sparkling short programme to snatch pole position at the world figure skating championships in Japan.

The American pumped his fist after a flawless skate in Saitama, crushing a quadruple lutz and a quad, triple toe-loop combo on his way to a season's best 107.40 points -- more than 10 points clear of countryman Jason Brown with two-time Olympic champ Hanyu third.

Hanyu, who has just returned from an ankle injury that forced him out of December's Japanese nationals, took the ice to deafening cheers after kneeling to pray and giving a gentle squeeze to the stuffed Winnie the Pooh he carries with him everywhere.

The 24-year-old fluffed his opening quadruple salchow jump but landed a quad lutz, triple toe-loop combination and a triple axel measured at an eye-popping 70 centimetres in height to persuade the judges to award him 94.87 points.

A strong finish triggered an avalanche of toy bears from his adoring fans -- many of them dressed as Winnie the Pooh -- but Brown surpassed Hanyu's score with a superbly executed, quad-free routine to earn 96.81 points ahead of the weekend's free skate.

That, however, never looked enough to win the short programme from the moment Chen nailed his opening quad lutz.

"These two guys have pushed me to be a better skater," said Chen, flanked by Hanyu and Brown.

"I like to tell myself everything I've done in the past -- good or bad -- stays in the past," added the 19-year-old.

- No excuses -

"Coming into these worlds is no different to any other worlds -- except the last worlds were lacking this guy to my left (Hanyu).

"We're all human and we all make mistakes but I want to use what I did today to build confidence for Saturday."

Hanyu, who is chasing a third world title, made no excuses and promised to come out firing in the free skate.

"I don't think I was focused enough," he said, clutching his Pooh bear and dripping with sweat.

"After I missed that first jump I felt I was pushing too hard. Obviously it's frustrating not being able to execute a perfect skate in Japan," he added.

"But I'm experienced enough to put things right and will be spot on in the free skate."

American Vincent Zhou produced a high-energy skate to finish in fourth on 94.17 points with Italian Matteo Rizzo fifth with 93.37 and Japan's Olympic silver medallist Shoma Uno back in sixth on 91.40 after crash-landing a quad flip.

Earlier, China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong scooped the first gold medal of the competition as the 2018 Olympic runners-up won the pairs world title for a second time.

The 2017 champions scored 155.60 points for a superb free skate to seal victory with a total of 234.84 points.

Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov took silver while compatriots Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert claimed bronze.

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