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Hanyu favored to win Olympic gold

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu has impressed skating analysts with his performance in the short program in the team event and his official practices since arriving in Sochi.

How much?

Enough that several, including 2010 gold medalist Evan Lysacek of the United States, believe the Sendai native is the favorite for the gold medal in men’s singles starting Thursday night.

“For sure, he has a good shot,” said the 2010 Olympic champion, told icenetwork.com. “He’s got the edge after his brilliant short.”

Following Tuesday’s session, the 19-year-old spoke to the media and said that he is taking it one day at a time and not looking ahead.

“I am not even thinking about the color of the medal,” he said. “I am just concentrating, very hard, at each practice and really doing everything I can do.”

When a reporter asked him if he was nervous, Hanyu said he was not.

“Nervous? I don’t feel nervous,” he said. “I am just practicing very seriously here in Sochi. I’m not feeling bad about anything.”

What is clear to just about every observer is that Hanyu is ascending. The Grand Prix Final champion looked outstanding in Tuesday’s practice, landing several quadruple jumps and not falling once. He appeared smooth as silk as he went through his paces.

Hanyu practiced again Wednesday without incident.

Questions abound about three-time defending world champion Patrick Chan, who was beaten by Hanyu at the GP Final in Fukuoka in December, and had issues in the short program in the team event.

The 23-year-old Chan does not appear to have the stamina that his younger rival Hanyu has at this point, nor the precision.

While Evgeni Plushenko is also in the mix, there are doubts about whether the 31-year-old can hold up through two programs in two nights. He complained about back pain after Sunday’s free skate in the team event, and that was following two days without competition.

In the end, the result will likely come down to Hanyu’s ability to cope with the pressure.

As coach Nikolai Morozov has said, “Skating is 98 percent mental on this level.”

Based on how Hanyu is trending – winning the GP Final and the Japan nationals in the past two months – it is clear that his path to Olympic glory is in sight.

All he has to do now is go out and take it.

Expert analysis: Add legendary coach Frank Carroll, who helped lead Michelle Kwan to four of her five world titles and one of her two Olympic medals, to those who think Russia’s teen wonder Julia Lipnitskaia was the beneficiary of inflated scores during the team event.

“There are things I like about that young lady’s skating and things I don’t like,” Carroll told icenetwork.com. ”I think she is absolutely wonderful at the age. I don’t think she skates in between things (elements) like a total, mature skater.

“She was given some 10′s for PCS (program component scores), which is on par with [Patrick] Chan and everyone who has ever been. She’s not there yet,” he said.

Travel plans: Defending Olympic champion Kim Yu-na was scheduled to arrive in Sochi around midnight on Wednesday. She will likely have her first practice here on Thursday morning.

A huge media throng turned up to see her off at Seoul’s Incheon Airport when she departed earlier in the day.

“It will be the last competition of my professional career, so I want to make sure I have no regrets and enjoy the experience,” the Chosun Ilbo quoted Kim as saying.

“It is my second and last Olympics. I can say I’m in good condition as I’m now injury-free at least,” she added.

Kim seemed unconcerned about the emergence of Lipnitskaia.

“It will be a great opportunity for her as the Olympics are taking place in her home country,” Kim said. “Thinking about who may or may not do well won’t help me at all. What’s important is I do everything I’ve been preparing so hard to do.”

Meanwhile, Kanako Murakami is set to jet in from Japan on Thursday.

Mao Asada and Akiko Suzuki are now training in Armenia and are expected to return to Sochi later this week.

After the performance of Lipnitskaia in the team competition, it appears that many of the international media see the battle for the gold medal as being between Kim and the young Russian. Mao Asada, the silver medalist in Vancouver four years ago, has practically become an afterthought.

Smart move: The Main Press Center and the International Broadcast Center here are connected into one massive structure, which can mean a lot of walking to get from one place to another. The building is equivalent to the size of a large shopping mall.

Shizuka Arakawa, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist who is here working for NTV, has found a way to expedite her travels within the IBC. She posted a photo of herself on Twitter on Wednesday in the cafeteria with inline skates on.

Very clever.

Arakawa is not the only former Japan Olympian here working in media. Junko Yaginuma (1988) and Nobunari Oda (2010) are also on the job.

  • Kaz.H

    Hanyu as well as Hirano think deeply themselves despite their age. I was really impressed by them.