A healthy Yuzuru Hanyu returned to competition over the weekend at the Autumn Classic International in victorious fashion. The superstar scored a comfortable win skating his two programs from last season.
Hanyu, who has struggled with an ankle injury the past two seasons, gave an uneven performance and showed he still has room for improvement. Having not competed for six months and coming off a serious injury, it came as no surprise.
The two-time Olympic champion won the event in Oakville, Ontario, for the fourth time in the past five years with a total score of 279.05 points.
France's Kevin Aymoz (262.47) was second, with Canada's Keegan Messing (256.02) taking third.
Hanyu fell on his opening quad salchow in his short program to "Otonal," but other than that was nearly flawless.
Debbi Wilkes, one of the commentators on the Skate Canada livestream of the event, praised Hanyu's determination after the miscue.
"Knowing Yuzu, he won't be happy with that performance," Wilkes stated. "Eyeing rival Nathan Chen from the U.S., he knows to compete with Nathan he needs that quad salchow that he missed. Like a true champion, rearranged himself and refocused to do the quad/triple combination."
Hanyu's free skate to "Origin" was a bit more problematic, as he received negative grades of execution on his first two quads (loop, salchow), then had under-rotations on a pair of quad toe loops.
Wilkes, the 1964 Olympic silver medalist in pairs, noticed that even the greatest skaters can go through rough patches.
"Shaking off some of the rust early in the season," Wilkes commented. "Even Yuzuru can have problems some days."
Two-time pairs world champion Meagan Duhamel, who also provided commentary on the livestream, complimented Hanyu's commitment to excellence.
"We see him looking exhausted at the end of that performance," Duhamel noted. "I have to point out that when he finishes a practice session, he's that exhausted. It's because he gives 110 percent of himself to every moment. So that when it's over, he has nothing left in the tank.
"He practices like that. He performs like that. He does shows like that. That's who he is."
Added Wilkes, "that's one of the reasons he is so great."
Wilkes noted something special about Hanyu in her analysis.
"Every performance in competition is serious for a competitor, but when Yuzuru steps on the ice there is this focus that emanates from him," Wilkes said.
Duhamel pointed out that there is a reason for Hanyu's superiority.
"Yuzu is a perfectionist. Although that was great performance, he will not be satisfied with it," Duhamel stated. "It's because of Yuzu's multiple quad jumps that he has kind of forced men's skating around the world to up the ante. That why we are seeing quad flips and quad lutzes now. He's kind of forced them to do that if they want to compete with him."
Kihira off to great start
Rika Kihira got her season off to an impressive start with a solid win in Canada. The Grand Prix Final champion looked in midseason form on the way to the victory.
Kihira won with a total of 224.16, over second-place Evgenia Medvedeva (217.43) and Lim Eun-soo (184.38), who finished third.
The many Japanese fans on hand in Oakville roared as she skated her short progam to "Breakfast in Baghdad." Kihira looked smooth from start to finish in a flashy purple costume.
Duhamel mentioned her experience skating with Kihira in her commentary.
"I've done many shows in Japan with Rika and she does that triple axel just as good on small ice with spotlights and no warmup every night in the show," Duhamel noted. "It's because she trains it like that, that doing it in the pressure of competition is nothing."
Duhamel also cited Kihira's step sequence for praise. Kihira earned level fours for her steps and all of her spins in the short program.
"I really enjoyed Rika's footwork sequence. I thought she had a lot of bodywork throughout the sequence," Duhamel commented. "Those nuances that she is adding to her skating compared to last year. A big step up with the footwork sequence."
Kihira put on a fine show in her free skate to selections from "International Angel of Peace" despite having an under-rotation on her second triple axel and a triple lutz.
Wilkes liked what she saw in Kihira's free skate.
"Often I have found that too many selections in a program can interfere with the flow and continuity of whatever the story might be," Wilkes said. "But here the selections were all very complementary and gave Rika an opportunity to express various moods."
Duhamel cited a need for more content early in Kihira's free skate.
"Skaters are constantly growing their programs and adding to their programs throughout the season, and once those two triple axels become extremely comfortable to her, the details around them in the choreography can be filled in a little bit more," Duhamel stated.
Japan struggles at Lombardia
While the competition in Canada went well for Japan, the same cannot be said of the Lombardia Trophy in Bergamo, Italy, over the weekend, where Wakaba Higuchi (164.37) finished a disappointing eighth and Kazuki Tomono (203.08) was seventh.
Russia's Anna Shcherbakova won the women's event with 218.20, while China's Jin Boyang took the men's on 268.31.
Higuchi's spins and step sequence received level fours in her short program to "Bird Set Free," but her jumps were problematic. She doubled her planned triple lutz, then fell hard on her combination jump.
The 2018 world silver medalist had more trouble in her free skate to "Poeta," as she earned only one level four on her spins and fell on her triple loop.
Tomono had a tough go of it in his short program to "Chroma — The Hardest Button to Button," falling on his opening quad toe loop and again on his triple axel. He did post level fours on his spins and step sequence, however.
Tomono's free skate to a couple of numbers from "Moulin Rouge" was much better. The blemishes came when he singled a planned triple axel and received poor grades of execution for his opening quad toe loop and a triple loop.
Uramatsu shines in debut
Chisato Uramatsu, a 17-year-old from Nagoya, was a revelation in her Junior Grand Prix debut in Chelyabinsk, Russia. The unheralded Uramatsu (171.32), who was just 14th at last season's Japan Junior Championships, came in fifth at the event won by Russia's Kamila Valieva (221.95).
Uramatsu sparkled in her short program to "Turandot" and ISU announcer Ted Barton took notice.
"What an inspiring performance. Just delightful expression on her face throughout the program," Barton stated. "The extension of the turned out free leg (on the layback spin), just beautiful straight back. There is the sideways position, still got that free leg perfectly turned out."
Nana Araki was fourth again in her second JGP of the season, after earning the same placement in Courchevel, France, last month.
Araki was in good shape in her short program to "Destino" until she doubled her triple loop. She bounced back in her free skate to "Nausicaa" and Barton said her performance brought back memories.
"That was the Nana Araki we first saw when she entered the Junior Grand Prix," Barton said. "Really determined, fast, a high jumper, clean, solid edges. She's had her challenges over the last couple of years.
Poland next stop on JGP
The JGP travels to Gdansk, Poland, this week for the fifth stop on the seven-event circuit. Tomoe Kawabata and Moa Iwano will represent the Hinomaru in the women's competition, while Yuma Kagiyama will try to lock up a spot in the JGP Final in the men's.
Kawabata was fifth at the JGP in France, while Iwano will be making her season debut.
Kagiyama won in Courchevel with a strong effort and will be aiming for a high placement again in Poland to secure a berth in the final in Turin, Italy, in December.