Figure Skating

Yuzuru Hanyu targets record fifth ISU Grand Prix Final gold as Russians threaten Rika Kihira's crown

AFP-JIJI

Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will bid to become the first figure skater to win gold five times at the International Skating Union (ISU) Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, starting on Thursday, with compatriot Rika Kihira’s women’s crown under threat from four Russian rivals.

Hanyu returns to the elite six-skater event, after a two-year absence, looking to topple U.S. rival Nathan Chen and lay the groundwork to reclaim the world title in March.

Hanyu, who turns 25 this week, won four consecutive Grand Prix Final titles between 2013-2016, and a fifth would see him overtake Russian greats Evgeni Plushenko and Irina Slutskaya.

The two-time Olympic gold medalist has been in hot form with two of the highest scores this season, and wins at Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy at home in Japan.

Two-time world champion Chen, 20, also has two wins, at Skate America and the Internationaux de France, as he targets his third straight title in the final.

Chinese champion Jin Boyang, a two-time world bronze medalist, will be challenging for a podium place, in a field that also includes three Grand Prix Final debutants — Russian duo Alexander Samarin and Dmitri Aliev and France’s Kevin Aymoz.

But Hanyu has no doubt who his rival will be.

“I know it will be a fight between Nathan and me,” he said.

Chen toppled Hanyu at March’s worlds, and has been on a winning streak since finishing fifth at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

In the women’s event, Kihira and American newcomer Bradie Tennell will be looking to gate-crash a Russian party in Turin’s Palavela.

Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova wants to reclaim the title she lost last year to 17-year-old Kihira in Vancouver.

But Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova are also threats in their first senior season, with two wins each in the Grand Prix series.

Kihira — who had a golden run last season before finishing fourth at worlds — finished second in Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy.

Zagitova, 17, is also without a win, having finished second in France and third in the NHK Trophy.

Russian national champion Shcherbakova, 15, won both Skate America and the Cup of China, and has performed two difficult four-rotation quadruple jumps in her free skate.

Trusova — dubbed the “Quad Queen” — has been attempting four quad jumps in her program on her way to wins in Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia.

Kostornaia, 16, won the NHK Trophy and in France.

American silver medalist Tennell, 21, is an outsider for the podium having earned her berth to the Grand Prix Final through a tiebreaker after four skaters finished equal on points.

In pairs, China’s two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are favorites.

They are up against fellow Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro and three young Russian teams.

In ice dancing, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France are on course to reclaim the title after new record scores in their Grand Prix series wins.

They missed last year’s final through injury, with Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue the defending champions.