Two-time and reigning Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu returned from a long injury layoff to land two quadruple jumps and score a world-leading 111.31 points in his short program at the Japanese championships on Friday.
The 27-year-old Hanyu, who has been out for eight months with an ankle injury, punched the air with his fist after finishing his clean program in Saitama, Japan. He landed a quad salchow, a quad toe-triple toe combination and a triple axel to post a score nearly five points ahead of American Nathan Chen’s score at Skate Canada.
Hanyu and Chen are expected to go toe-to-toe for Olympic gold at the Beijing Games in February.
“Everything went exactly as I’d planned it over six days of practice,” Hanyu told Kyodo News.
The Japanese championships and Russian championships are running through the weekend, and with the U.S. nationals in early January, they should give figure skating fans a glimpse of who to watch at the Winter Games.
Hanyu, who intends to try to land the first quad axel in competition in his free skate Sunday, leads reigning Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno by nearly 10 points. Umo, the winner at the NHK Trophy, landed a quad flip and quad toe-double toe combo along with a triple axel during his short program Friday.
Yuma Kagiyama is expected to join Hanyu and Uno on Japan’s team for Beijing. He was in third after his short program.
If the Japanese championships are showcasing Olympic favorites in the men’s competition, the championships in Russia are doing the same for the women, who could become the first nation to sweep the podium.
Kamila Valieva, the heavy favorite to win gold, landed four triple jumps during her packed short program to score 90.38 points. Along with a triple axel and triple flip, Valieva landed a triple lutz-triple toe combination to top her own world-leading short program score of 87.42 set during her record-setting Rostelecom Cup victory.
Sofia Muravieva scored 81.87 points and was in second place heading into the free skate. Anna Shcherbakova was right behind her with 81.46 points. Podium favorite Elizaveta Tuktamysheva fell on a triple axel during her program and never got back on track, leaving her with ground to make up after a score of 71.28 points.
Russian skaters also are expected to medal in pairs in Beijing. The team of Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov lead at their nationals with 83.74 points after the short program. They’re followed by Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii with 82.84 points and Olympic favorites Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov with 78.68.
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