The final two skaters of the men's short program at the World Team Trophy in Osaka, Japan on Thursday (15 April) were the class of the field, with Chen edging out Hanyu in two fantastically skated programs.
The team event takes place every other season, and is the final event of the pre-Olympic figure skating year.
Japan's Hanyu skated to a 107.12, but the American Chen skated next and was just barely better, registering a 109.65 to win the short.
Jason Brown (94.86), Kevin Aymoz (94.69), and Mikhail Kolyada (93.42) each skated strongly as well to finish 3-4-5, while Olympic silver medallist Uno Shoma (77.46) struggled in his short, ending up ninth in the 11-skater field.
Canada's Roman Sadovsky had a career-best 89.61 to finish sixth.
Earlier in the day it was recent world champions Anna Shcherbakova in the ladies and Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov who were strongest, helping Team Russia to an early lead in the event. They maintain that lead with 49 points at the end of Day 1. The U.S. is second at 47 and Japan in third with 42.
Teams are awarded points for top finishes in each discipline, with the short and free programs being scored separately. Each of the dance, ladies and men kicked off the event on Thursday, with the pairs to get underway on Friday. The skating concludes on Saturday with the ladies' free.
Chen shakes off fall at worlds for flawless short
This time there was no short program blip for Nathan Chen.
The American had fallen in the short in Stockholm just three weeks ago, needing to come from behind to win his third consecutive world title, but was on song from the start in Osaka, hitting an opening quadruple flip before looking strong on a triple Axel and a quad toe-triple toe to finish.
Chen and Hanyu were neck-and-neck across the judges' scoresheet, though the slightest of saves on the triple Axel cost Hanyu, Chen earning a 10.72 on the jump vs. 8.16.
"I’m happy with the short program; the quads were a bit shaky at the end," Chen told reporters. "Obviously [it's] a lot easier without the [quad] flip in the second half of the program.
Chen noted the different feeling in the arena with fans, the first time he's performed in front of a crowd this season.
"It really makes a big difference having people and I’m glad to be here. This competition in general to me, I want to enjoy myself. We all have our responsibilities to the team, but I felt a lot more energised training [after] worlds. I just had to stay healthy. The goal was to get a little bit more refreshed." - Nathan Chen
Hanyu spoke with reporters, as well.
"I felt like I did everything I could within my powers and I’m not worried about my score," he said in Japanese. "Personally I’m happy with the way I executed the salchow and toeloop in the first half of the program. I’d never done it before so I feel like I got a lot out of today."
Hanyu continued: "Sure, the disappointment from worlds is still [there] and a part of me still wants to redeem myself. But I want the free to be more than that. I think I can add something to what I’ve already done."
Strong day for Brown, Aymoz, Kolyada
Disappointment rang out for Uno, who missed a combination in his program, falling on a quad toe attempt.
"It’s a team competition and there’s no question I have dragged us down," Uno said in Japanese. "This is entirely on me. I hope I can do a lot better than I did today in the free program."
While Shoma struggled, each of Brown, Aymoz, and Kolyada shined, the trio each offering different looks on the ice in their respective short programs.
Brown's "Sinnerman" (Nina Simone) has been a fan favourite this season and Thursday was no different. He was rewarded handsomely in the program components (artistry), as he opted not to do a quad jump in his short.
"It was the best. I missed Japan so much," a delighted Brown said. "It’s such an amazing place to skate."
"One of the biggest parts of the WTT is the spirit of the team you have. Especially with the year we had it means a lot to rally for each other. We are so fortunate to be here and root for each other." - Jason Brown
Kolyada missed the entire 2019-20 season due to illness and surgery, and in June of 2020 switched to famed coach Alexei Mishin.
"I thought my performance was good; not ideal but I’m satisfied with it," he said. "I get asked a lot about my coach, but he has changed everything - from the program, to the training, how I get ready for competitions. We have been putting in a lot of work."
Read an exclusive Q&A with Kolyada here.
Aymoz, for his part, was delighted by his short program performance. He recently earned France two spots for next year's Beijing 2022 Games at worlds, finishing a career-best ninth.
World Team Trophy is scored differently compared to individual events, with finishes in the program segments - short and free - scored separately.
The U.S. will need a strong Day 2 to try and catch the overnight the leaders. The Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) won three out of four gold medals at worlds in ladies, pairs, and dance.
You can find the full team standings here.