HELSINKI, April 2 (Reuters) - For all his brilliance and world record scores, there is one annoying riddle that Yuzuru Hanyu has yet crack.
Will he ever be able to win a major global competition by producing back-to-back flawless skates?
Sporting annuls will show that by the age of 22, the Japanese had won an Olympic gold medal and two world titles.
However, if fans read the small print, they will be reminded that on each occasion Hanyu triumphed by producing one spectacular performance while the other was anything but.
It is a pattern that started at the 2014 Sochi Games, when a breathtaking short skate was followed by two spills in the longer programme.
The sequence was reversed at the world championships a few weeks later in Saitama, where Hanyu had to make up ground in the free skate after producing a messy short programme.
Three years on and Hanyu is no closer to savouring that perfect performance at a championships.
Instead he had to rely on a dazzling free skate on Saturday, with world record scores, to lift him from fifth to the top of the podium.
But with the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics 10 months away, Hanyu feels there is a limit to the amount of nerves he can tolerate.
“I feel it’s very difficult to put out two clean programmes in both the short and the free, and I still need to work on that,” Hanyu told reporters after edging out team mate Shoma Uno for the gold.
“Towards the Olympic season I think it’s important to skate clean both in the short and the free, these two programmes together.”
That may be easier said than done.
Even when Hanyu fails to win the top prize at the major global meets, he does not deviate from his usual script.
At the last two world championships he produced brilliant short skates only to suffer blowouts in the free -- handing victory to his coach Brian Orser’s other pupil, Javier Fernandez, on each occasion.
In Helsinki, however, it was the turn of short-skate leader Fernandez to suffer that feeling as he stumbled to fourth.
It was a result that proved one thing to the Spaniard.
“If Yuzu skates a clean short and a clean long, he will probably be unbeatable,” said Fernandez.
Reporting by Pritha Sarkar, editing by Greg Stutchbury