Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu made a dazzling return to the ice on Friday at Japan’s national figure skating championships, throwing down a marker for the Beijing Winter Games with an outstanding short program.
The 27-year-old superstar posted a score of 111.31 at Saitama Super Arena to take a big lead in the men’s singles competition over Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, who earned 101.88 for a clean and composed routine. Former junior national champion Yuma Kagiyama placed third with 95.15.
The nationals, which serve as the final qualifying event for February’s Beijing Games, are Hanyu’s first competition of the Olympic season as he recovers from ligament damage to his right ankle.
After withdrawing from the NHK Trophy and Rostelecom Cup in the Grand Prix series last month, Hanyu stoked fears about his fitness by skipping a training session on the eve of nationals, which began Thursday and end Sunday.
The reigning Olympic champion and five-time national champion put those concerns to rest during his short routine, incorporating a quadruple salchow, quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination and a triple axel.
“I was able to land that first jump really well,” said Hanyu, who received a standing ovation from the packed arena. “Everything went exactly as I’d planned it over six days of practice. I had the feel for my program that I expected to, and was able to stay calm.
“I think I’m calm now that I’ve cleared my first competition.”
Having repeatedly expressed his desire to perform a quad axel over the past year, Hanyu plans to incorporate the jump into his free skate for the first time on Sunday, the championships’ final day.
“Well, first of all, I was able to take care of business today,” he said. “I’m not completely satisfied as there were things I can do better, while I did uncover some things I could do well, and want to do my best (in the free skate). Of course, I’m still planning to attempt that (quad axel).”
Uno, a four-time national champion, remained on track to qualify for his second Olympics, opening with a quadruple flip and following with a quad toe loop-double toe loop combination and triple axel.
“I can’t say that it was an amazingly good performance, there were lots of things that I never seem to get right,” Uno said. “But since I got here, I’ve been focusing on the jumps and was able to cobble enough things together.”
The 18-year-old Kagiyama, who finished third at the past two nationals, landed a quad salchow-triple toe loop combination and a triple axel, but fell on his second jump, a quad toe loop.
Sixteen-year-old Kao Miura, the current junior national champion, made a big impression as the first skater onto the ice, scoring 92.81 with a pair of quad jumps to place fifth.
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