Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu is set to make his season debut at the Autumn Classic International in Oakville, Ontario, this week.
This will be an important season for the superstar, who has struggled with injuries the past two campaigns. With the Beijing Olympics now just two-and-a-half years away, Hanyu’s shot at becoming just the second man (after Sweden’s Gillis Grafstom — 1920, 1924, 1928) ever to win the Olympic gold three consecutive times, hangs on his ability to remain healthy.
Hanyu, who will turn 25 in December, most certainly has the mental fortitude to top the Olympic podium again if his body holds up. That is why it is imperative that he be able to skate an entire season without interruption, so he can get into a rhythm that will carry him into the pre-Olympic season at full strength.
Following his dramatic free skate at the world championships in Saitama last March, Hanyu took several weeks off to let his injured right ankle heal. He was active during the show season, but this week will provide the first competitive test for him in nearly six months.
The primary competition for Hanyu in Ontario will likely come from training partner Cha Jun-hwan of South Korea and Canada’s Keegan Messing. Presuming he is fully fit, Hanyu should win the event in a walk. The short program is set for Friday.
The women’s event at the Autumn Classic should be more competitive. Grand Prix Final champion Rika Kihira will make her season debut as well and take on a field that includes two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, South Korea’s Lim Eun-soo and former U.S. champion Karen Chen.
Kihira, who went into the worlds as the favorite, will be looking to bounce back from her disappointing fourth-place finish there and begin the new season on a high note.
The 17-year-old has been working on a quad salchow in the offseason and may include it along with two triple axel this week during her free skate in Canada.
Bronze for Matsuike in Latvia
Japan earned a medal on the Junior Grand Prix circuit for the third week in a row when 14-year-old Rino Matsuike (193.03 points) took the bronze in Riga in her JGP debut in the event won by South Korea’s Lee Hae-in (197.63).
Lee’s gold was the first for South Korea in the JGP since 2005, when Yuna Kim won both of her JGPs and the JGP Final.
Matsuike, who trains under legendary coach Machiko Yamada in Nagoya, was very impressive in Latvia. She displayed real maturity and did not appear to be at all nervous in her first big international competition.
ISU announcer Ted Barton liked what he saw in Matsuike’s short program to “The Color Purple.”
“She just makes you feel calm through her patience. Just beautiful. The moves, the calm,” Barton stated. “The choreography and execution matched perfectly the feeling of the music. The facial expression. That was not only a great skate, that was great art.”
Barton complimented Matsuike’s skating skills.
“Look at this edge work. Such deep, calm, beautiful flowing edges. Simply exquisite,” Barton commented. “Elegant, delicate and ever so charming.”
Matsuike was fourth after the short program, but stepped it up in her free skate to “Dryandes Pan, Variation on an Original Theme” to make the podium, landing seven triples and receiving level fours on all of her spins.
Barton was full of praise again for the youngster after her free skate.
“The step sequence, where she was chasing and catching the violin, was just remarkable. A piece of art,” Barton noted. “If you paid attention to her movement and the phrasing of the music and how she played with it, it was just beautiful.”
Rion Sumiyoshi (161.06) came in eighth in a disappointing performance. The Tokyo native, who turned 16 last month, has been dealing with a leg injury and it showed as she struggled with falls and under-rotations.
Sumiyoshi, who did very well at the junior test skate in June, placed third and fourth in her two JGPs last season.
Miura sets new standard
Kao Miura (185.50) was Japan’s lone male skater in Riga and wound up in eighth place in the competition won by Russia’s Andrei Mozalev (223.72).
Miura put on an energetic effort in his short program to “Rise” and looked to be in a good shape before falling on his combination jump late and botching his final spin.
Barton cited the positives for Miura after his short program.
“Good skater, great energy, good technique,” said Barton. “Just a problem or two. One big one, one small one.”
Miura did achieve something noteworthy with his quad toe loop in his free skate to “The Bells of Notre Dame,” becoming the youngest Japanese (at 14 years, 3 months) to cleanly land a quad in an ISU event.
“This young man has great athleticism. He has got power. Incredible power,” Barton stated. “He powered right up all the way (on the quad toe loop.) Clean as a whistle. Look at the flow and the glide on that landing edge.
“You can see the abilities. We will see a lot more of him in the future, I’m certain.”
JGP travels to Russia
The JGP travels to Chelyabinsk, Russia, this week for the fourth stop on the seven-event circuit. Nana Araki and Chisato Uramatsu will represent the Hinomaru in the competition.
Uramatsu, a 17-year-old from Nagoya, will be making her JGP debut in Russia.
Japan does not have a male skater entered in this JGP.
Passing of Collins ends era
Famed skating promoter Tom Collins passed away last week at the age of 88 in Minnesota. The entrepreneur was revered in the skating community for his Champions on Ice tours that featured the top stars from four decades.
Collins, who was a show skater himself back in the 1950s, founded what became COI in 1969 and built it into a juggernaut.
In Collins’ obituary in The New York Times, 1988 Olympic champion Brian Boitano noted, “Your goals were to get a U.S. medal, a world medal, and to be in Champions on Ice. To get a job with him on tour meant you had made it.”
USA Today columnist Christine Brennan, who profiled COI in a 2002 book, said Collins really understood how to promote skaters.
“Tom knew the value of stars and superstars,” Brennan said.
Back in May, many prominent skaters who participated in his tours over the years joined Collins for a reunion in Minnesota.
Peggy Fleming, Dorothy Hamill, Nancy Kerrigan, Michelle Kwan and Boitano were among the luminaries to attend the gathering. Two-time Olympic champion Katarina Witt flew in all the way from Germany to pay tribute to Collins.
Trusova reflects on Japan
Two-time world junior champion Alexandra Trusova of Russia, one of the prize pupils of famed coach Eteri Tutberidze, is entering her first season as a senior. She has kept busy this offseason by skating in many shows and making TV appearances in Japan.
“In Japan, it’s nice to perform in competitions and shows,” Trusova was quoted as saying. “They like figure skating very much.”
Trusova welcomed the opportunity to open new horizons.
“Participation in shows and TV shows has become a new experience for me, and I got an opportunity to talk with famous skaters from around the world,” Trusova commented.
One of the skaters Trusova connected with was two-time world champion Miki Ando. The pair have something in common. They were the first two women to land quadruple jumps in international competitions.
Ando did it with a quad salchow at the JGP Final in 2002 at the age of 14, while Trusova achieved the feat at 13 at the world juniors in 2018 with two quads (toe loop, salchow).