Hanyu shines in the spotlight on return to national figure skating championships

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Yuzuru Hanyu performs in the men’s short program at the National Figure Skating Championships at Saitama Super Arena in Saitama, eastern Japan on December 24, 2021. (Kyodo)

TOKYO (Kyodo) – Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu made a resounding return to the ice on Friday at the Japan National Figure Skating Championships, throwing a scorer for the Beijing Winter Games with an outstanding performance in the short program.

The 27-year-old superstar scored 111.31 at the Saitama Super Arena to take a big lead in the men’s singles competition over Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, who scored 101.88 for a clean, composed routine. Former National Junior Champion Yuma Kagiyama placed third in 95.15.

The final qualifying event for the February Games in Beijing, the national championships are Hanyu’s first competition of the Olympic season as he recovers from a ligament injury in his right ankle.

After retiring from the NHK Trophy and the Rostelecom Cup in the Grand Prix series last month, Hanyu stoked fears about his fitness by skipping a training session on the eve of the national championships on Thursday-Sunday.

But the reigning Olympic champion and five-time national champion allayed concerns with a short routine incorporating a quadruple salchow, a quadruple toe loop-triple toe loop combination and a triple axel.

“I did really well on that first jump. Everything went exactly as I planned for six days of training,” said Hanyu, who received a standing ovation from the packed house. “I got the feel of my schedule that I expected and was able to stay calm.”

“I think I’m calm now that I’ve finished my first competition.”

After repeatedly expressing his desire to perform a quad axel over the past year, Hanyu plans to make jumping a part of his free skate for the first time on Sunday, the final day of the championships.

“Well, first of all, I got to mind my own business today. I’m not completely satisfied because there were things I could do better, while I discovered some things that I could do well and want to do my best (in the free skate), ”he said. “Of course I still plan to try this (quad axel).”

Quadruple national champion Uno stayed on track to qualify for his second Olympics, starting with a quadruple flip and following with a quadruple toe loop-double toe loop and triple axel combination.

“I can’t say it was an amazingly good performance, there were a lot of things I never seemed to pull off. But since I got here I have focused on the jumps and have been able to tinker enough of things together, “Uno said.

Kagiyama, 18, who has finished third at the last two national championships, achieved a quad salchow-triple toe loop and a triple axis combination, but fell on his second jump, a quadruple toe loop.

Current junior national champion Kao Miura, 16, made a strong impression as the first skater on the ice, scoring 92.81 with a pair of quad jumps to place fifth.

Kaori Sakamoto will take a 4.57 point lead in the women’s free skate on Saturday as she tries to claim her second consecutive Olympic spot.

Reigning two-time National Women’s Champion Rika Kihira retired before the competition due to a stress fracture in her right ankle and will not compete in the Olympics.



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