• Kyodo, AFP-JIJI, Staff Report


Two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu sits second behind Nathan Chen after the short program at the Grand Prix Final, with the American opening a commanding 12.95-point lead on Thursday.

Hanyu scored 97.43 points to the reigning world champion Chen’s personal-best 110.38.

Hanyu’s score suffered after he stepped out of his quadruple toe loop and did not go through with the second part of the combination jump, a triple toe loop.

“That (quad toe loop) wasn’t bad, but I got a bit tense,” said Hanyu, who was without coach Brian Orser in the kiss and cry.

“I felt prepared but couldn’t perform up to my full potential when the time came. I have to think about how to go about my free skate,” the 24-year-old stated.

“This program was performed by Johnny Weir here and he got second place (in the short program) at the (2006) Olympic Games. I wanted a good performance as well. To be honest, I am a little disappointed. Also, the point gap between me and Nathan is a little big, so it will be hard to come back, but I just want to think about what to do in the free skate, take one step at a time and give a good performance,” Hanyu commented.

Meanwhile, Chen landed a smooth quad lutz, triple axel and a quad toe loop/triple toe loop combination to earn the best score on the circuit this season, just 0.15 shy of Hanyu’s world record set in Moscow last year.

“I’m very happy with the score. But there are a lot of things I can improve on. I’m happy with the lutz, but I was a little shaky on the axel and a little shaky on the toe,” the two-time world champion remarked. “I’m not sure what the free program will be like. I’ve got two days to adjust and have to think. I’m not sure what the jump program will look like, but I love the program and I’m looking forward to it.”

France’s Kevin Aymoz took third after delivering his season’s-best score of 96.71.

On Saturday, his 25th birthday, Hanyu is hoping to come back strong in the free skate and capture a record fifth Grand Prix Final title after missing the two previous editions due to ankle injuries. Chen has won the last two editions in Hanyu’s absence.

He won four consecutive Grand Prix Final titles between 2013 and 2016. A fifth would see him overtake Russian greats Evgeni Plushenko and Irina Slutskaya.

The big surprise of the evening was Aymoz with a personal best despite a technical glitch at the start of his routine.

The Frenchman opened the proceedings but made a false start as the sound system hit the wrong note. As the music began, Aymoz took a couple of steps only to realize they weren’t playing his tune.

After a painful delay, as Aymoz stood waiting at center ice, Prince’s “The Question of U” started and he set off.

He was clearly unfazed quickly landing a quad toe and nailing his other jump elements before showing some tricky footwork to score a personal best by two points.

China’s Jin Boyang went sliding on his first jump, a difficult potentially high-scoring combination losing almost 15 points, and even though he fought back ended up fourth with 80.67.

A couple of wobbles and a touch of nervousness in the jumps cost Russian Dmitri Aliev who scored 88.78 and is in fifth.

Alexander Samarin seemed to be skating on thicker ice, putting a hand down on his first jump and under-rotating on another, to score just 81.32, and is sixth.

In the pairs, Sui and Han, gold medalists at the 2017 and 2019 world championships, scored 77.50 points to head a trio of young Russian pairs at the Palavela.

Skate Canada and Cup of Russia winners Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitrii Kozlovskii are second on 76.65, with Daria Pavliuchenkova and Denis Khodykin third on 75.16.

In the Junior GP Final, Russia’s Andrei Mozalev took the lead after the short program at 82.45, with compatriot Daniil Samsonov (77.75) in second.

Shun Sato (77.25) is in third, while Japan junior champion Yuma Kagiyama (71.19) is sixth.

Sato landed all of his jumps cleanly and earned level fours on two of his spins to stay within striking distance of the Mozalev.

“I’m satisfied with my performance today. I think I did 80 percent comparing to perfection,” Sato noted. “I would like to get a medal, but first I need to do my best and stay calm and concentrated.”

Kagiyama botched his opening triple axel and got just a level two on his step sequence.

Alysa Liu, the U.S. senior titlist, is in first place after the women’s short program with 71.19.

Russia’s Daria Usacheva (70.15) and Kseniia Sinitsyna (69.40) are in second and third, respectively.

“My short program felt pretty good. I was very happy with it,” Liu stated. “I’m just trying to enjoy the moment even during the program. I don’t really get nervous and I don’t feel barely any pressure. I just tell myself it’s just another competition.

“Tomorrow I’m planning two quad lutzes and two triple axels and hopefully show them completed and landed and there’ll be some changes to the choreography,” Liu added.

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