It is rare, amid the hype, that a sporting event lives up to its billing.
The men's event at the Grand Prix final in Barcelona did just that and then some. It was the best Men's free skate that I have ever seen.
It was in my opinion, the best men's final flight ever.
The top five finishers of the six competing were superb in the free skate delivering a record number of quads, record breaking scores and crowd pleasing performances.
The cast of five included three of the sports leaders and a couple of young rookies.
Canadian Patrick Chan, who was continuing on his comeback quest, was trying to reestablish himself as the sport's top guy. He was facing Olympic Champion Yuzuru Hanyu, who had recently broken Patrick's scoring record for the free skate, and local hero Javier Fernandez the defending World Champion. The rookies in the mix were Boyang Jin the quad king from China and Japan's newest skating sensation Shoma Uno.
The atmosphere was electric.
The audience was eager and appreciative and the arena was packed to the rafters with seats cozied up to the rink. The audience was made up of a large number of local fans, a strong showing of adoring Japanese supporters and a smattering of vocal visitors from North America and Europe. The energy and excitement in the arena was palpable and the skaters fed off it.
Four of the top five finishers had the kind of performances that left you feeling like they had just had the skate of their life. Nobody backed down technically and yet at the same time they all rose up artistically.
Patrick Chan had to go first in the group because he'd had a disastrous short program earlier in the week, where, due to mistakes he made, two of his elements were ineligible. He started off the night in the unenviable position of having to claw his way back into the game and onto the podium. He was looking for redemption and knew only his best would do.
Chan's skate was an intricate and soulful interpretation, to selections of Chopin. His speed was breathtaking and his seemingly effortless execution of complex and unpredictable choreography was superb. He did triple one of his two quads which stung his technical scores but did not mar his overall performance. It was a performance that had the audience including those in the press box around me on its feet.
Both Shoma Uno and Boyang Jin had competed at the Grand Prix Final at the junior level last year and this season in the senior level, they had been skating with a newcomer's enthusiasm of everything to gain and nothing to lose. They continued in the same vein in the final here.
Uno's youthful and heartfelt interpretation of Puccini's Turnadot was virtually flawless and included two Quads, one of which was in the second half upping its degree of difficulty. While Uno nailed the elements and milked the music, the audience responded loudly and by the end the ovation was thunderous. It left me wondering what the skaters back stage were thinking and feeling while they listened to the response for both Chan and Uno.
While Chan's artistry gave him the edge in the free it wasn't enough to make up the deficit after the short and so Uno kept the lead. Uno's technical score was noteworthy as it broke the 100 pt mark. Breaking 100 technically is enormously difficult and was previously extremely rare. He would be the first though, of 4 skaters that night to break it.
Boyang Jin had the most technically demanding program planned of the night with four quads, including his trail blazing quad lutz, a jump which few are even practicing and only he is landing in competition. His program is all about the jumps and the technical points maxed. So while artistically his skating is not remarkable, the courageousness of his intent technically and his uncanny ability to make the difficult rotations look easy was captivating.
He went for the four quads and only one of the four had a minor error in execution. Two of his quads came in the second half of the program. His performance, while not his very best was good enough technically to break 100.
Jin's jumping ability ensures that his presence pressures the field to deliver technically, an exciting element he brings to each event.
Spain's Javier Fernadez was next and to say that his entrance was met with a rousing ovation is somewhat of an understatement. It took him the first quad to settle in. He turned out on the landing and then locked into the zone, rounded the corner and knocked off a gorgeous quad salcow, triple toe combination and then went on to smoothly deliver an animated performance to music from Guys and Dolls by Frank Sinatra. His was a charming three quad program that had the audience on its feet well before the music finished, The quality and difficultly of his performance received a huge score of 201.43.
With that score he became only the second skater ever to score over 200 in the free skate.
While those numbers were going up on the board, the final skater Yuzuru Hanyu was circling and awaiting his turn. Nobody knew what it would take to beat Javier's score better than Yuzuru. He had been error free and brilliant just two weeks earlier at the Grand Prix in Japan where he became the first skater ever to break 200. In fact he had set records in both the short and free.
Here in Spain, he had been perfect and record breaking in the short program. That he could be brilliant wasn't the question, but rather could he be that consistent and do it again? He didn't mince words with his answer. His performance to a Japanese piece called Seimei was sensational. His program was packed technically with three explosive and precise quads, the third one executed after halfway in combination with a triple toe.
He was unflappable and on fire. With his fluid and lithe physique he handled all aspects of his program with such ease and grace that one could just sit back and be amazed, but nobody did, sit back. Rather they sat on the edge of their seats almost in disbelief but more in delight at what they were witnessing again from Yuzuru. The judges responded in kind with scores that once again are written at the top of the record books.
It was an evening of rising up and delivering and of back to the wall one upmanship.
The kind of night one never forgets and moving forward the night that will be the new measure of men's skating.