Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu tops Grand Prix Final short program

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Yuzuru Hanyu is well on his way to a record fourth straight Grand Prix Final title.

The Olympic champion landed two quadruple jumps while his closest rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez, nearly fell twice in the short program in Marseille, France, on Thursday.

Hanyu tallied 106.53 points, the third-highest short program score under the decade-old scoring system, but said he wasn’t completely satisfied. Hanyu owns the five best short programs, all compiled in the last two seasons, with a best of 110.95.

“This program feels like a concert,” said Hanyu, who skated to Prince music in a purple outfit. “I consider this program cannot be completed without the audience.

“I feel this program has a lot more potential. I really wanted to improve my personal-best score here.”

Hanyu is trying to become the first singles skater to win four straight Grand Prix Finals in the event’s 22-year history.

He leads three-time Canadian world champion Patrick Chan by 6.77 points going into Saturday’s free skate. Chan’s clean short program included one quad and marked his first personal best in three years.

“The first good short program in a long time, internationally,” Chan said. “It didn’t feel any more special than any usual training day.”

Fernandez, who beat Hanyu at the last two world championships, nearly fell on a quad Salchow and a triple Axel and is in third, nearly 15 points back of Hanyu.

Fernandez was followed by Japan’s Shoma Uno and the two Americans, training partners Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, in fifth and sixth in the six-skater field.

Chen, 17, fell on a quad flip and stepped out of a quad Lutz landing.

“I made two pretty big mistakes, so I’m a little bit upset about that,” Chen said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I was able to land the triple Axel, which I’m happy about because that’s always been my struggle jump.”

Rippon, 27, was the only skater to not attempt a quad.

“I’m trying the least amount of quads so my focus is to skate well overall,” Rippon said, according to U.S. Figure Skating. “I want to do my best and improve for the rest of the season.”

Chen and Rippon are the first American men in a Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, since 2011.

The Grand Prix Final continues Friday with the short dance, pairs free skate and women’s short program (broadcast schedule here).

Earlier in pairs, Canadian world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford struggled to third place in the short program. Duhamel fell on a throw triple Axel.

Russians Yevgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov lead by 3.26 points going into Friday’s free skate.

MORE: Javier Fernandez builds toward last Olympic chance

Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 106.53
2. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 99.76
3. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 91.76
4. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 86.82
5. Nathan Chen (USA) — 85.30
6. Adam Rippon (USA) — 83.93

Pairs Short Program
1. Yevgenia Tarasovana/Vladimir Morozov (RUS) — 78.60
2. Xiaoyu Yu/Hao Zhang (CHN) — 75.34
3. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 71.44
4. Cheng Peng/Yang Jin (CHN) — 70.84
5. Natalya Zabiyako/Aleksander Enbert (RUS) — 65.79
6. Julianne Seguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 60.86

Yuzuru Hanyu opens Olympic season with record score

Yuzuru Hanyu
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A sore knee didn’t hold Yuzuru Hanyu back. A record score to open his Olympic season.

The Olympic and world champion from Japan hit a pair of quadruple jumps in his short program at the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Montreal.

He was rewarded with 112.72 points, the highest short program score recorded under the 13-year-old judging system. Video is here.

It looked like a home competition for Hanyu.

Upon finishing, he bowed toward one set of bleachers (maybe a dozen rows) at the Sportsplexe Pierrefonds. More than two dozen Japanese flags made it hard to see most of the faces.

He bettered Javier Fernández, a two-time world champion and training partner, by 11.52 points. Fernández also landed two quadruple jumps to tally 101.2.

Full scores will be here upon the conclusion of the short program. The free skate is Saturday at 8 p.m. ET. A live stream is here.

Hanyu now owns the three highest short program scores under the 13-year-old system. The other two were set in the 2015-16 season.

Showdowns like Hanyu-Fernández are usually reserved for, at the earliest, the Grand Prix series in late October and November.

Hanyu and Fernández are very familiar with each other, having shared a coach in Canadian Brian Orser, the 1988 Olympic silver medalist, since 2012. They train in Toronto.

In that time, Hanyu became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic title (and the second teen from any nation to do it). He followed it up with world titles later in 2014 and this year.

Fernández achieved unfathomable success for a Spanish skater — world titles in 2015 and 2016, overtaking Hanyu in the free skate both times.

In PyeongChang, Hanyu can become the first man to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button in 1952. Fernández can become the third Spaniard to earn a Winter Olympic medal of any color in any sport, and the first since 1992.

The figure skating season continues next week with Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany, the final Olympic qualifying competition. North Korea could clinch its first spots in any sport for the Olympics in the pairs event.

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USOC letter assures Olympians about South Korea security

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The U.S. Olympic Committee’s security chief sent a letter to potential Winter Olympians saying there are no indications that recent developments between the U.S. and North Korea have compromised security in South Korea.

The letter, obtained by The Associated Press shortly after it was sent Friday, makes no suggestion that the U.S. is considering skipping the PyeongChang Winter Games for security reasons.

But Chief Security Officer Nicole Deal does write that provocations that have been volleyed between the United States and North Korea are likely to persist for the foreseeable future, and “should not be dismissed as insignificant nor feared as precursors of an inevitable conflict.”

The letter comes at the end of a week in which France’s sports minister suggested the country’s athletes would stay home if security could not be guaranteed.

The International Olympic Committee, trying to calm concerns, reiterated that in conversations with high-level officials in China and South Korea, none have expressed doubt about the Winter Games proceeding as scheduled, next February.

The USOC also sent out a public statement Friday from CEO Scott Blackmun.

“We will continue to work with our State Department and local organizers to ensure that our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe,” he said.

The letter, sent to athletes, national governing bodies and other Olympic leaders in the United States, said the USOC’s security division is operating as “business as usual for our security planning and preparations.”

Deal writes that the USOC is reviewing crisis management plans that address a range of potential scenarios “to ensure our athletes, and our entire delegation, are safe.”

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