Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will start his Grand Prix campaign at Skate Canada, the ISU announced recently when the GP assignments for the 2019-20 season were released.
Hanyu, who trains in Toronto, will travel across Canada for the event in Kelowna, British Columbia (Oct. 25-27), as he looks to have an injury-free season for the first time in three years. The 24-year-old superstar appears to be back to full health, as he has been participating in shows throughout Japan for the past month.
The Sendai native’s primary competition at Skate Canada will likely come from the up-and-coming Matteo Rizzo of Italy, who finished seventh at the world championships, and Mikhail Kolyada of Russia.
Hanyu will be seeking to win Skate Canada for the first time, having placed second in each of his three previous tries in the competition. His teammate Keiji Tanaka will also be in the lineup in Canada.
Hanyu’s second GP assignment will come at the NHK Trophy (Nov. 22-24) in Sapporo. Hanyu will take on American Jason Brown, Kolyada and Russian veteran Sergei Voronov in Hokkaido, as well as teammate Sota Yamamoto.
Skating at Makomanai Ice Arena, Hanyu will be looking to win the NHK Trophy for the fourth time. He defeated Nathan Chen for the title in Sapporo in 2016, the last time the event was held there.
As the host nation, Japan has one spot in each discipline that has yet to be determined and theoretically could give the place to Daisuke Takahashi if it really wanted to spice things up. However, that appears unlikely, with Takahashi having stated he may plan on trying to enter a Challenger Series event this season.
Hanyu, who was second behind Chen at last season’s world championships in Saitama, will once again be trying to win the Grand Prix Final for a record fifth time this season. He has missed the prestigious six-skater competition the past two years due to ankle injuries.
The GP Final (Dec. 5-8) will take place in Turin, Italy, this year.
Shoma Uno, who finished a disappointing fourth at last season’s worlds, will launch his GP campaign at the Internationaux de France (Nov. 1-3) in Grenoble, site of the 1968 Winter Olympics. Uno will face off with Chen, Voronov and world junior champion Tomoki Hiwatashi, who will be making his senior GP debut.
Uno, the three-time defending national champion, will have his second GP at the Cup of Russia (Nov. 15-17) in Moscow. Uno being assigned to the Russian GP should come as no surprise, with him training with coach Eteri Tutberidze and her team in the country this summer.
World bronze medalist Vincent Zhou figures to be Uno’s main rival in Russia, where Kazuki Tomono will also pull the boots on.
Tomono and Koshiro Shimada are entered in the season-opening Skate America (Oct. 18-20) in Las Vegas, which will feature a deep field that includes Chen, China’s Jin Boyang and South Korea’s Cha Jun-hwan.
Tanaka’s second GP is the Cup of China (Nov. 8-10) in Chongqing, where the strong roster will include Zhou, Jin, Rizzo and Cha.
The women’s GP schedule will present some compelling matchups, due to the depth of Japan’s squad along with that of a Russian team that will add world junior champion Alexandra Trusova and world junior silver medalist Anna Shcherbakova, who was the country’s national senior champion last season.
Grand Prix Final champion Rika Kihira, who made a big splash in her senior debut last season, will open her GP campaign at Skate Canada, where she will challenge two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, Trusova, former U.S. champion Bradie Tennell and compatriot Mai Mihara.
Kihira, who will turn 17 next month, will take part in the NHK Trophy for her second GP, where she will battle Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova and her Russian compatriot Sofia Samodurova, and teammate Mako Yamashita.
Defending national champion Kaori Sakamoto starts her GP season at Skate America along with 2018 world silver medalist Wakaba Higuchi and Yamashita. The Japan trio will go up against powerful opposition that includes Elizabet Tursynbaeva, last season’s world silver medalist, former world champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva and Tennell.
Sakamoto’s second GP is the Internationaux de France, where she will be joined by Higuchi and Yuna Shiraiwa, and vie for the title with Zagitova and American Mariah Bell.
Four-time national champion Satoko Miyahara will compete in consecutive weeks on the GP circuit this season. The Kyoto native will begin at the Cup of China, before moving on to the Cup of Russia.
The field in China will be formidable, as it will include Tursynbaeva, Tuktamysheva, Mihara and Marin Honda (in her lone GP this season).
Higuchi’s second GP is the Internationaux de France.
Miyahara will see strong competitors again in Moscow, where Medvedeva, Trusova and Shiraiwa are scheduled to skate. Yuhana Yokoi will make her senior GP debut at the event (in her only GP assignment of the season).
Ice dancers Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto earned two GP assignments this season, after having just one last year. The duo will take the ice for the Cup of China and the NHK Trophy.
Japan does not have a pairs team participating in the GP campaign this time around.
Hiwatashi set for Japan debut
Hiwatashi, whose parents hail from Kobe, is looking forward to making his competitive debut in Japan. The 19-year-old, who was born and raised in the U.S., will skate in “The Ice” in Osaka, Niigata and Nagoya this summer. He sent his thoughts to Ice Time in an email on Monday.
“I’m just really glad I got this competition because one of my goals as a skater was to skate in Japan for a competition,” Hiwatashi wrote. “I’m very excited and will train really hard for this upcoming season!”
Tarasova likes Uno’s choice
Legendary coach Tatiana Tarasova said recently in an interview with the website fsrussia.ru, that was translated into English and posted on the skating site fs-gossips.com, that Uno made the correct decision by joining Tutberidze.
“He made the right choice that he went to Tutberidze and her team, because Tutberidze is an outstanding coach, she has strong assistants,” Tarasova was quoted as saying. “They all together will help him become more confident and more technical. He is already an outstanding figure skater.”
Meanwhile, Polina Shelepen, who was Eteri’s first star student, is now a coach. She had some interesting comments about the star coach in a recent interview with sport-express.ru that were also posted fs-gossips.
Shelepen said when she first joined Eteri, she was intimidated.
“Of course, I was afraid of her,” Shelepen was quoted as saying. “She was strict from the very beginning. But now as a coach, I understand that strictness isn’t for showing your superiority, it is respect, discipline, otherwise as some point they will simply stop listening to you.”
Shelepen noted that Eteri instilled her with toughness.
“When a coach constantly demands, you get used to be demanding of yourself,” Shelepen stated. “Eteri taught me to be a maximalist, so it is no longer necessary that someone forces me.”