• AFP-Jiji


Japan’s two-time Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu made a stylish return to competition Friday after skipping the Grand Prix season over fears of coronavirus infection.

Resplendent in a gold-studded black outfit, Hanyu unveiled a new short program routine set to “Let Me Entertain You” by Robbie Williams at the Japanese national championships in Nagano, and claimed the lead with a score of 103.53.

The 26-year-old star had been out of action since February after deciding his asthma made competing in this season’s Grand Prix series too risky during the pandemic, but he picked up where he left off with a confident performance.

“First of all, it was important just to get back to competition,” said Hanyu, who admitted to feeling “conflicted” about competing this week as infections surge around Japan.

“I had been able to do some really good practice, and although my performance wasn’t worth the score I got, I managed to land all my jumps. Now I want to execute my program tomorrow.”

Hanyu leads 17-year-old Yuma Kagiyama, who won the NHK Trophy last month in his senior Grand Prix debut, and Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, who is attempting to win his fifth straight national title.

With Canadian coach Brian Orser unable to join him because of travel restrictions, Hanyu sat alone after unveiling his high-tempo new routine, clutching a Winnie the Pooh soft toy as he waited for his score.

He opened with a quadruple salchow before nailing a quad toe loop to triple toe loop combination, then followed with a triple axel before channeling British pop star Williams with a slide on his knees to finish.

“It was a rock song so there was a rock theme,” said Hanyu. “I tried to do it in the same kind of style as Robbie Williams.

“At first I was looking for piano music for the routine, but given all that has gone on in the news, I thought it would be better to choose something more upbeat. I wanted to give people watching something uplifting amid all the gloomy things that have been going on.”

Japan’s national championships this year double as a qualifier for the world championships in Stockholm next spring.

Hanyu is aiming to win the national title for the first time since 2016, having missed the event three times since then through injury or illness.

“To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t hear any cheers,” said Hanyu said of his performance, in front of a crowd ordered not to yell because of virus countermeasures.

“But I felt that people watching on TV and over the internet would be cheering at home, so I was able to enjoy myself.”

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