MOSCOW — Patrick Chan played it cool, starting his short program with his hands stuffed in his pockets.
He couldn’t contain his enthusiasm a few minutes later when he saw his marks, and realized he’d set a world record.
The Canadian scored 93.02 points Wednesday at the figure skating world championships, giving the two-time silver medalist a wide lead as he seeks his first world title. His nearest challenger, Japan’s Nobunari Oda, was almost a dozen points behind and defending champion Daisuke Takahashi of Japan was another 1.6 further back.
In pairs, defending champions Pang Qing and Tong Jian of China were in the lead after the short program, followed by last year’s runners-up, Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy of Germany. Russia’s Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, who have been skating together only a year and are appearing in just their second major competition, were third.
“I knew that if I skated really well I would get in the high 80s, but I didn’t expect to get above 90 and that’s amazing,” said Chan, whose previous personal best was 88.90 at the Four Continents Championships in February 2009. “To set that world record is just a bonus and it just makes my smile even bigger.”
The world championships were to have been held in Tokyo in March, but the country’s devastating earthquake and tsunami and ensuing nuclear crisis forced cancellation of those plans. Russia and several other countries bid to be the replacement venue and the International Skating Union chose Moscow on March 24.
The backdrop of tragedy led to an opening ceremony at the competition that was far different from the garish cheeriness that usually characterizes skating ceremonies. As projectors sprayed images of the sea and squiggles like the needles of a seismograph on the arena’s walls, skaters in black and white swirled solemnly, then were joined by others in pink and white — the colors of the cherry blossoms that Japanese love as symbols of hope and renewal.
Chan came in as the favorite to claim the world title after a commanding victory at the Grand Prix Final, and he didn’t disappoint with his record-setting short program. To the strains of the uber-cool jazz standard “Take Five,” Chan stood on the ice in a casual slight slouch, then got going fluidly and fired off a pristine quad-triple opening combination. Everything went his way afterward: clean landings, deft steps and a swift closing sit-spin. He led the field in both technical marks and program components, the so-called artistic elements of the program.
His score topped the previous record of 91.30 set by Evgeni Plushenko at the 2010 European championships.
None of the U.S. men were in the top 10. Richard Dornbush, who won the junior Grand Prix final in December, was 11th with 70.54 points. U.S. champion Ryan Bradley was right behind (70.45) and Ross Miner was 13th (70.40).
“I have a hard enough long program, I can make a big pull,” Bradley said. “I laid the groundwork for tomorrow, keeping myself in the game so when I do two quads and two axels tomorrow, I can be competitive.”
Despite his numerical advantage going into Thursday’s free skate, Chan doesn’t plan to coast.
“I’ve been training the program with two quads in it, so I believe it would be a disadvantage if I decided to swap everything and change everything and change the rhythm of my program,” he said. “I’m going to keep everything the same, and pretend as if tomorrow is another short program where there’s no results and we’re all skating a new program, skating for new positions.”
Oda, seeking his first world medal, planned a program a bit more challenging than Chan’s, with a triple lutz instead of the Canadian’s triple flip. But he stepped out of the first part of his planned opening quad-triple, skated to modern Japanese music tinged with a touch of the blues.
“I knew that I had to live up to a very high level of expectations. I wanted to end the season with a very good performance, that’s what I concentrated on, so I put out my best there today,” Oda said. “Knowing Patrick, I know he will perform his best tomorrow, so what I have to do is to put out my best. … I don’t know if I can catch up.”
Takahashi was technically almost flawless and included a notably high triple axel, but he didn’t try a quad.
Russian Artur Gachinski, a newcomer to the worlds, appeared briefly set to match Chan, starting with an assured quad-triple. But he caught a rear blade on the ice while coming out of a triple loop and fought to maintain his balance. He finished the day in fourth, less than two points behind Takahashi.
Pang and Tong, silver medalists at the Vancouver Olympics, were typically elegant and precise as they skated to “The Pearl Fishers” by Bizet, unleashing a high and fast triple twist.
“We are happy because we were very clean and completed all our components,” Tong said.
Volosozhar and Trankov only teamed up last May. She had represented her native Ukraine at two Olympics with former partner Stanislov Morozov — now her and Trankov’s coach — while Trankov was a three-time European medalist with Maria Mukhortova.
“We’re happy, but we’re also surprised,” Volosozhar said of her and Trankov’s quick success.
Yuko Kavaguti and Alexander Smirnov, the reigning world bronze medalists, were expected to be Russia’s best hope for a pairs medal. But they finished fifth after he caught a toepick and fell. Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov, Russia’s up-and-coming pair, were in fourth.
U.S. champions Caitlin Yankowskas and John Coughlin were eighth after he had a fluke stumble, tripping as the pair tried to get back in sync after their side-by-side triple toes.
“I’m the captain of my team so that’s on me. Live and learn,” Coughlin said. “The rest of the program was solid. I thought we did a nice lift considering both of my hands were wet and we were off timing. I hate to say learning experience, but we are sitting in a pretty good spot for our first worlds.”
Amanda Evora and Mark Ladwig were 11th after she fell on their side-by-side triple toes.