Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will be looking to regain his title at the world championships this week in Boston after narrowly losing it last year to Spain’s Javier Fernandez following a physically calamitous campaign.
Hanyu has been in great form this season, setting six world records in the space of two weeks in November and December with incredible performances at both the NHK Trophy and Grand Prix Final.
The Sendai native will be joined in his pursuit of gold by defending world silver medalist Satoko Miyahara. Hanyu and Miyahara will try to reprise what Mao Asada and Daisuke Takahashi achieved at the 2010 worlds in Turin, Italy, when both brought home golds for the Hinomaru.
Hanyu made it clear he has gone to the worlds on a mission.
“I want to win. I want revenge for last season,” he told reporters after practice on Monday morning at TD Garden.
His stunning efforts earlier this season continue to resonate through the skating world.
“The performances he gave first at NHK and then at the Grand Prix Final, I only wish he had done that at the Olympics, because people would talk about that for 50 years, 70 years, 80 years,” legendary skating writer Phil Hersh told The Skating Lesson in an interview posted on YouTube last week.
“I was blown away not only by the jumps, but by the in-betweens, by the Ina Bauer, by the Bielmann, by everything else that he gives you in a program,” stated Hersh. “He is able to spend the whole program looking as if he is not setting up quadruple jumps. It’s spectacular what he has done. Absolutely spectacular.”
Hersh believes it will be difficult for anybody to beat Hanyu at the worlds if he skates anywhere near his best.
“Patrick Chan skated really well at the free skate at the Grand Prix Final and Yuzu’s technical scores were 24 points higher,” noted Hersh.
“If he skates the way he did at the Grand Prix Final, it will take something close to a divinity to come floating down on a cloud of angels to beat him.”
Hersh had the highest praise for Hanyu throughout the interview with The Skating Lesson, saying at one point, “We have seen many great performances over the years, but when you consider the technical difficulty he is doing compared to 15 years ago, it’s unreal.”
In addition to Fernandez, Hanyu’s primary challengers will include three-time world champion Chan, China’s Jin Boyang, Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten and compatriot Shoma Uno.
Uno will be seeking to join Hanyu on the podium in his first shot at the senior worlds. Hersh would not rule Uno out of medal contention, but believes others will have to falter for him to make the top three.
“He’s a great skater to watch. He’s got the quads. He is a beautiful skater,” said Hersh. “Would I be surprised to see him on the podium? No, I wouldn’t. But he can’t get there on his own right now, I don’t think.”
Miyahara will try to finish a step higher than she did in Shanghai when she competes in Boston. Miyahara has also enjoyed a fine season, winning her second straight national title and placing second at the GP Final behind Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva.
Other medal hopefuls will include Americans Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner, and Medvedeva’s compatriot Elena Radionova.
Mirai Nagasu was added to the U.S. team last week after Polina Edmunds was forced to withdraw with an injury. Nagasu would seem a long shot for a medal, but one never knows with her.
The Skating Lesson spoke to USA Today’s Christine Brennan, perhaps the most famous skating writer ever, about the women’s field at the worlds and she indicated her high regard for Miyahara during the chat.
Brennan, who authored the classic book “Inside Edge” in 1996, believes Miyahara has a chance at the world title, but will also need the cards to fall the right way to get it.
Medvedeva, who won the GP Final and the European title this season, enters the worlds as the favorite. She beat Miyahara by more than 13 points in Barcelona, but this will be Medvedeva’s first senior worlds.
“I would love to see her (Miyahara) win,” stated Brennan. “She is excellent. Everyone has issues, but give me that. That is skating to me. I look at her and I see Yuka Sato. I see Fumie Suguri. I see that fluidity. That pure joy of skating. It’s just beautiful skating.
“I think the judges might say, if the Russians make mistakes, ‘We’ve got the world silver medalist here.’ All of a sudden you have got her sitting there. I think she could easily be the world champion. She is certainly in the right spot if there are some mistakes.”
Miyahara is joined on the Japan team by three-time world champion Mao and Rika Hongo.
Brennan has clearly gained a great appreciation for Mao during her long career.
“I’m a fan of Mao’s,” said Brennan. “I’m a fan of her sticktuitiveness. I’m a fan of the triple axel that she has tried and been able to land. I’m thinking back to Vancouver even and how amazing she was.”
Brennan paid tribute to Mao with the highest praise.
“I think Mao is just one of the greats. There is nothing that would be better for the sport of figure skating, than for Mao to be able to hang on through 2018 and win another medal at the Olympic Games. That would be so deserved,” Brennan stated.
“(Mao is) a real class act and an ambassador for the sport, when the sport absolutely needs these kinds of wonderful veterans to be around and to continue to do great things.”
Brennan saluted Japanese skaters and their determination and success over the past 10 years.
“There is real strength there, conviction and love of the sport,” she said.
Hersh singled out the fervor of Japanese skating fans with his astute analysis.
“They are great, passionate, wonderful fans,” he commented. “They support their skaters. They support everybody’s skaters. I would be very surprised if there is not a very large Japanese crowd (in Boston).”
Sad news: Tragedy struck the skating world Saturday when Russian coach Igor Pashkevich died at the age of 44 in South Florida. Pashkevich was the world junior champion in 1990.
No official cause of death has been given, but his employer, Palm Beach Ice Works, confirmed his passing in a Facebook post on Tuesday.
Pashkevich competed in singles at two Olympics, finishing 15th at the 1994 Lillehammer Games for Russia, and 16th in Nagano in 1998 for Azerbaijan. He was the silver medalist at the 1996 European Championships.
The veteran coach had close links with Japanese skating, having worked with the likes of Shizuka Arakawa, Miki Ando, Takahashi and Nobunari Oda over the years.
Shortly after being contacted for a comment by Ice Time, Ando posted several messages on Twitter about Pashkevich.
“I have no words about Igor . . . He was the one who made me to become world champion too. He helped to take care with my skates. This is really shocked and sad news in figure skating world.”
She then posted a photo of Pashkevich with the following message:
“Thank you very much and may his soul rest in peace.”
Book report: Veteran skating writer Yoshie Noguchi has authored a new book in Japanese based on her years of covering Hanyu. The tome is entitled “Yuzuru Method” and was released last week by Number Books.
Noguchi, one of the foremost experts on Japanese skating, has become a must-read for skating fans in this country. Earlier this month she penned a cover story on Uno for AERA magazine.