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Hanyu set for Helsinki, Cup of Russia

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will begin his Grand Prix season in Helsinki at the GP that is replacing the Cup of China, according to the ISU’s recent announcement of GP assignments.

Helsinki will surely bring back fond memories for both Hanyu and his fans, as it was the site of perhaps his finest performance ever and what many believe was the greatest single skate in history.

In fifth place after the short program at the 2017 world championships, the Sendai native won his second senior world title with a flawless performance to “Hope and Legacy” in the free skate.

Just the mere mention of that stunning show of athleticism and artistry can still bring Hanyu supporters to tears.

Hanyu’s primary competition in Finland will likely come from new training partner Jin Boyang of China. Jin finished fourth at the Pyeongchang Olympics, and shortly thereafter announced he would be moving to Toronto to train with Hanyu under Brian Orser.

Keiji Tanaka will also be in the field for Helsinki (Nov. 2-4), along with American Alexei Krasnozhon, last season’s Junior Grand Prix Final champion.

Hanyu’s second GP assignment will be at the Cup of Russia (Nov. 16-18) in Moscow, where he will be joined by Kazuki Tomono. Krasnozhon is also on the roster, along with Mikhail Kolyada.

Hanyu will be seeking to win a record fifth GP Final title this season. Currently he is tied with Russian legend Evgeni Plushenko with four.

Hanyu’s run of four straight victories in the prestigious event ended last season after he was hurt in practice ahead of the NHK Trophy in Osaka and was unable to compete for nearly three months.

The GP Final (Dec. 6-9) is slated for Vancouver, British Columbia, this year.

Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno will open his GP campaign at Skate Canada (Oct. 26-28) in Laval, Quebec. Uno will go up against Tomono and South Korea’s Cha Jun-hwan in Canada.

Uno, the two-time defending national champion, is also set to compete in the NHK Trophy (Nov. 9-11) in Hiroshima. Hiroaki Sato will join Uno at the NHK Trophy, where other top contenders will include American Vincent Zhou (who finished sixth at the Pyeongchang Olympics) and Russia’s Dmitri Aliev (who was seventh in South Korea).

The real drama in Hiroshima will come if Daisuke Takahashi’s comeback has progressed enough after the Kinki regionals in October to earn him the host nation’s additional spot at the NHK Trophy. If that is the case, the competition will take on an entirely different dimension.

Takahashi has been away for four full seasons, but if he is able to regain his previous magic, the NHK Trophy could become very memorable.

Tanaka, who was second at last year’s Japan nationals, has drawn the Internationaux de France (Nov. 23-25) in Grenoble for his second assignment. The field in France is loaded, with world champion Nathan Chen, Jin and Aliev all slotted to take part.

Chen, who will begin attending Yale University in the fall, has spread out his assignments due to school commitments. He will begin with the first GP event on the calendar at Skate America (Oct. 19-21) in Everett, Washington, and not compete again until the last GP in France during Thanksgiving weekend.

Japan won’t have any men competing at Skate America, where Chen’s toughest challenge should come from compatriot Zhou.

The women’s GP lineup this season is certain to present some interesting matchups with Japan’s talented group of skaters including four-time national champion Satoko Miyahara, world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi and Four Continents titlist Kaori Sakamoto leading the charge.

Miyahara, who was fourth in Pyeongchang, and Sakamoto, who came in sixth, will open their GP seasons at Skate America, along with compatriot Marin Honda, who now trains in Southern California.

The Japanese trio will take on U.S. champion Bradie Tennell and Russia’s Elena Radionova in Washington.

Higuchi will begin her GP season at Skate Canada along with Yura Matsuda and senior debutante Mako Yamashita, who was the world junior bronze medalist last season.

It will be tough sledding in Canada, with two-time world champion and Olympic silver medalist Evgenia Medvedeva on the roster. The Russian star left longtime coach Eteri Tutberidze after Pyeongchang and decided to move to Toronto to train under Orser.

Former world bronze medalist Gabrielle Daleman and South Korea’s Choi Da-bin are also scheduled to compete at Skate Canada.

World champion and Olympic bronze medalist Kaetlyn Osmond is sitting out the GP season.

Sakamoto, Rika Hongo and Yuna Shiraiwa will travel to Finland for the Helsinki GP, where Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and former world champion Carolina Kostner will be making their GP season debut.

Miyahara and Mai Mihara will pull on the boots at home for the NHK Trophy against a field that will include Daleman and Russia’s Maria Sotskova.

Higuchi’s second assignment will come at the Cup of Russia. She will be joined by Matsuda and Yamashita against a tough lineup that includes Zagitova and American Gracie Gold, who is making a comeback after a season away from competition.

Rika Kihira’s lone GP assignment at this point is the Internationaux de France, where Honda and Mihara will also take the ice. Kihira could also get the host nation slot at the NHK Trophy in November.

The field in Grenoble will be another tough one, with Medvedeva, Kostner and Sotskova all penciled in to take part.

The pairs team of Miu Suzaki and Ryuichi Kihara will compete at the NHK Trophy in their lone GP assignment.

In ice dance, Kana Muramoto and Chris Reed have been slotted in for the NHK Trophy and Cup of Russia, while Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto will line up in just the NHK Trophy.

Third gold predicted for Yuzu

Evgeni Plushenko, the 2006 Olympic gold medalist and three-time world champion, gave high praise to Hanyu in a recent video interview with the Olympic Channel.

“He is a great skater from a different planet,” stated Plushenko. “He works a lot. He likes to skate. I like his jumps. I like his choreography. I like his spins.”

Plushenko said that he has known Hanyu for a long time.

“I have known him since he was 8 years old,” Plushenko recalled. “We were doing a tour. He started to explain, ‘I like how you skate. Can you watch my jumps?’

“When he jumped, his rotation was so quick, so fast,” Plushenko commented, while snapping his fingers for emphasis. “I said, ‘You can do it.’ And he made it.”

When asked if Hanyu could capture a third consecutive gold medal at the 2022 Beijing Games, Plushenko was emphatic.

“I would like to see him on the Olympic Games, and he can win,” Plushenko said. “I think he will try. He will skate. He will perform. And for sure he can make it, because he is from a different planet.”

Honda changes schools

Honda has changed high schools, the Yomiuri Shimbun reported on Tuesday.

Honda, who will be competing in her second season as a senior in the upcoming campaign, has transferred from Kansai University High School in Osaka to Aomori Yamada High School in Aomori Prefecture.

The 16-year-old, who was the 2016 world junior champion, struggled in her first year as a senior and missed out on both the Pyeongchang Olympics and world championships.

Junior camp in Nagoya

Japan’s top juniors will take part in a training camp July 26-29 at Chukyo University in

Nagoya. The JSF will announce which skaters will get the JGP assignments for this season shortly after the camp concludes.

With top juniors Kihira and Yamashita having departed for the senior ranks, there is certain to be an intense battle among the juniors participating in the camp.

JGP skaters returning from last season include Nana Araki, Moa Iwano, Akari Matsubara, Akari Matsuoka, Rino Kasakake and Riko Takino.