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Shoma Uno tops Javier Fernandez in Rostelecom Cup short program

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Japan’s Shoma Uno continued his strong start to the figure skating season, easily bettering world champion Javier Fernandez in the Rostelecom Cup short program in Moscow on Friday.

Uno, 18, beat his personal best by 5.6 points, tallying 98.59 points, doing two quadruple jumps (putting his hand down on one landing).

The Spaniard Fernandez performed one quad and scored 91.55 points for second place. Max Aaron, the 2015 Skate America winner, fell on his quad attempt and put up 73.64 for eighth. Full results are here.

Uno scored 9.43 points higher than he did at Skate America two weeks ago, when he also topped the short program, albeit with a fall. Uno has won all three of his competitions this season, including beating Fernandez at the free-skate-only Japan Open on Oct. 1, which can be seen as a preseason exhibition.

Uno’s personal best Friday moved him from No. 8 to No. 3 all time in short program scores under the current points system. Only Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and Fernandez have scored higher.

Later Friday, Russians took the top three spots in the women’s short program — 2016 World bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya (73.93), 2015 World bronze medalist Yelena Radionova (71.93) and 2014 World silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya (69.25).

Two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates of the U.S. topped the short dance with 74.05 points. Russians Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev were second at 74.92.

Russians Natalya Zabiyako and Alexander Enbert were the surprise pairs short program leaders with 69.76 points, .25 better than world bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot. Savchenko and Massot both fell on triple Salchows.

Rostelecom Cup concludes with all of the free skates Saturday. A detailed schedule is here.

Uno and Chock and Bates will clinch berths in December’s Grand Prix Final, the second-biggest annual competition, if they hold on to win Saturday. Actually, Uno will clinch with any podium finish.

NBCSN and the NBC Sports app will air coverage Sunday from 10-11:30 p.m. ET.

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Rostelecom Cup preview, broadcast schedule

BOSTON, MA - APRIL 01:  Javier Fernandez of Spain skates in the Men's Free Skate program during Day 5 of the ISU World Figure Skating Championships 2016 at TD Garden on April 1, 2016 in Boston, Massachusetts.  (Photo by Maddie Meyer/Getty Images)
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Could the world’s best figure skater *right now* be Shoma Uno, the 18-year-old from Japan?

Uno goes into this weekend’s Rostelecom Cup in Moscow perfect for the early season, following wins at the lower-level Lombardia Trophy in September and the free-skate-only Japan Open and Skate America in October.

Quite a bounce back for a skater who could have easily been shaken by a disappointing seventh-place finish at last season’s world championships.

Uno is 5-foot-2 and soft-spoken, but showed a resiliency in standing up again in his second full season as a senior skater. In fact, in his first event after worlds, at the Team Challenge Cup in April, he became the first skater to land a quadruple flip in competition.

Uno then trounced the last two U.S. champions, Jason Brown and Adam Rippon, at Skate America and comfortably beat two-time reigning world champion Javier Fernández of Spain at the Japan Open, which can be seen as a preseason exhibition.

Uno and Fernández meet again with higher stakes at Rostelecom Cup, beginning in Friday’s short program and concluding with Saturday’s free skate.

If Uno wins again, he will become the first skater to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in December (actually, any podium place will do that) and consolidate the argument that he is the world’s best. That Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu was flawed and beaten at Skate Canada last weekend certainly helps Uno’s case, too.

Fernández, meanwhile, has only competed once this season (that runner-up to Uno in Japan) and recently lost about a week of training while traveling from his Toronto base to Madrid to Tokyo and back for off-ice commitments.

Fernández won Rostelecom Cup the last two seasons, but both times he already had a Grand Prix start under his belt before arriving in Moscow.

Also in action this weekend are three Russians with world championships medals — 2016 bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya, 2015 bronze medalist Yelena Radionova and 2014 silver medalist Yulia Lipnitskaya.

All three are among several countrywomen jockeying for position behind reigning world champ Yevgenia Medvedeva, who won Skate Canada last week by a whopping 14.2 points. Russia will send three women to worlds in Finland in late March, and Medvedeva appears all but a lock to earn one of those spots.

In pairs, Skate America winners Julianne Séguin and Charlie Bilodeau of Canada will qualify for a second straight Grand Prix Final with a podium finish. They go up against world bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko and Bruno Massot of Germany.

In ice dance, two-time world medalists Madison Chock and Evan Bates compete for a second straight week after taking second at Skate Canada. They will clinch a Grand Prix Final berth with a victory and could also eventually make it with a second- or third-place finish.

Chock and Bates’ top competition will be past world medalists Yekaterina Bobrova and Dmitry Soloviyev of Russia and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada.

Other Americans in action in Moscow are 2015 Skate America winner Max Aaron and Courtney Hicks.

MORE: Full figure skating season broadcast schedule

Rostelecom Cup broadcast schedule (all times Eastern)

Friday Short dance 7:45 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Men’s short program 9:25 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Pairs short program 12 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s short program 1:40 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Friday Women’s, men’s short programs 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Saturday Free dance 7 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Men’s free skate 8:50 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Pairs free skate 11:05 a.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Women’s free skate 12:50 p.m. Icenetwork.com
Saturday Free dance, pairs free 8-10 p.m. UniHD
Sunday Rostelecom Cup 10-11:30 p.m. NBCSN, NBC Sports app

Key Short Program Start Times (Friday ET)
Weaver/Poje (CAN) — 8:11 a.m.
Chock/Bates (USA) — 8:31 a.m.
Bobrova/Soloviyev (RUS) — 8:38 a.m.
Shoma Uno (JPN) — 10:05 a.m.
Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 10:19 a.m.
Max Aaron (USA) — 10:25 a.m.
Savchenko/Massot (FRA) — 12:14 p.m.
Seguin/Bilodeau (CAN) — 12:20 p.m.
Yulia Lipnitskaya (RUS) — 2:07 p.m.
Anna Pogorilaya (RUS) — 2:13 p.m.
Courtney Hicks (USA) — 2:47 p.m.
Yelena Radionova (RUS) — 2:53 p.m.

Top Grand Prix Season Scores
Men
1. Shoma Uno (JPN) — 279.34 (Skate America)
2. Jason Brown (USA) — 268.38 (Skate America)
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 266.95 (Skate Canada)
4. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 263.06 (Skate Canada)
5. Adam Rippon (USA) — 261.43 (Skate America)
*World champion Javier Fernandez yet to compete.

Women
1. Yevgenia Medvedeva (RUS) — 220.65 (Skate Canada)
2. Kaetlyn Osmond (CAN) — 206.45 (Skate Canada)
3. Ashley Wagner (USA) — 196.44 (Skate America)
4. Satoko Miyahara (JPN) — 192.08 (Skate Canada)
5. Mariah Bell (USA) — 191.49 (Skate America)
*World bronze medalist Anna Pogorilaya yet to compete.

Pairs
1. Meagan Duhamel/Eric Radford (CAN) — 218.30 (Skate Canada)
2. Yu Xiaoyu/Zhang Hao (CHN) — 202.08 (Skate Canada)
3. Julianne Séguin/Charlie Bilodeau (CAN) — 197.31 (Skate America)
4. Haven Denney/Brandon Frazier (USA) — 192.65 (Skate America)
5. Lubov Ilyushechkina/Dylan Moscovitch (CAN) — 190.22 (Skate Canada)
*World bronze medalists Aliona Savchenko/Bruno Massot yet to compete.

Ice Dance
1. Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir (CAN) — 189.06 (Skate Canada)
2. Madison Chock/Evan Bates (USA) — 188.24 (Skate Canada)
3. Maia Shibutani/Alex Shibutani (USA) — 185.75 (Skate America)
4. Piper Gilles/Paul Poirier (CAN) — 182.57 (Skate Canada)
5. Anna Cappellini/Luca Lanotte (ITA) — 180.35 (Skate Canada)
*World champions Gabriella Papadakis/Guillaume Cizeron yet to compete.

Yuzuru Hanyu roars to Worlds lead amid pressure of rising expectations

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu feels the expectations, rising with every world-record performance. He stepped on the TD Garden ice with an unfamiliar nervousness as thousands cheered in anticipation on Wednesday night.

Many Japanese fans flew more than 6,000 miles to Boston for the World Championships this week, most of all to watch Hanyu perform for not even eight minutes over two programs.

But he’s used to that, having swept the Olympic and World titles in 2014 and shattered short program, free skate and total scores at his last two international competitions.

“I was pretty nervous today, and just the quality of the nervousness was a little bit different from usual,” Hanyu said through a translator afterward. “It’s hard to explain, but I felt a little unsettling in my mind.”

Hanyu’s first task was Wednesday’s short program, jumping, stepping and spinning to Chopin for just under three minutes.

He appeared calm and cocooned as he skated towards center ice, seconds before his turn as the penultimate competitor among a group of 30.

“When I was skating the short program, I was kind of released from that feeling,” Hanyu said of the nervousness, “and I just skated.”

Nearly to perfection.

Hanyu nailed all of his jumps, unlike his two main rivals, including two quads and tallied the second-highest short-program score under a judging system that debuted in 2005.

He roared twice before gliding off the ice, carefully avoiding Winnie the Pooh bears tossed by adoring fans. They’ve been a staple since before he became the world’s best skater at age 19 two years ago.

“The reason that I was so emotional at the end today was because I felt kind of different,” said Hanyu, attributing the nervousness at least partly to obstacles faced in pre-Worlds training, including a poor practice Tuesday. “With that circumstance, I was still able to pull out the good performance. That’s why I showed my emotion so strongly.”

The scoreboard read 110.56, just off the record 110.95 set at his last international competition in December.

Hanyu goes into Friday’s free skate (9 p.m. ET, NBCSN and NBC Sports Live Extra) with the largest short-program lead for any skater in any discipline at a Worlds or Olympics — a whopping 12.04 points.

“I do feel the expectation of my standard has been rising, and I do feel the pressure, actually, but it doesn’t really affect my performance,” Hanyu said. “I want to really enjoy my skating, and I think I was able to show that today.”

Neither 2015 World champion Javier Fernandez nor three-time World champion Patrick Chan can say they showed their best Wednesday. Both men fell on jumps and are second and third, respectively, going into the free skate.

Fernandez, who erased Hanyu’s comparatively paltry short-program lead of 2.46 points to win Spain’s first World title a year ago, added a second quadruple jump to his short program earlier this season.

He needed it to continue challenging Hanyu, his training partner under 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser in Toronto.

But Fernandez couldn’t land it, slamming his right arm and then the rest of his body on the ice on a Salchow.

“When we decided to put two quads, we knew it was more risk,” Fernandez said. “Hopefully in the free program I can keep myself more concentrated, I don’t do any more mistakes, because Yuzu is already like 10 points away.”

Chan, the last man to beat Hanyu in November, fell on a triple Axel at his first Worlds since he three-peated in 2013. The Canadian took more than 18 months off from competition after grabbing silver behind Hanyu at the Sochi Olympics.

He called his third-place standing Wednesday a success.

“There’s a lot of pressure that I haven’t been familiar with for two seasons,” Chan said. “I’m very happy with how much I’ve improved already this year, being a comeback year.”

The U.S. men are out of the medal picture, as expected. U.S. champion Adam Rippon skated clean but didn’t attempt a quad. It showed in his score, an 85.72 for seventh place.

The 2013 U.S. champion Max Aaron did attempt a quad but put a hand down and slotted in 4.44 behind Rippon in eighth place. Worlds rookie Grant Hochstein fell on his lone quad and is 16th.

Rippon and Aaron must make a net gain of two places in the free skate for the U.S. to keep three men for the 2017 World Championships.

As for Hanyu, the numbers to watch are 219.48 and 330.43, his world-record free skate and total scores set in December. They are not at the front of his mind.

“I am not thinking of setting new records,” he said.

WORLDS PREVIEWS: Men | WomenPairsIce Dance | Broadcast Schedule

Men’s Short Program
1. Yuzuru Hanyu (JPN) — 110.56
2. Javier Fernandez (ESP) — 98.52
3. Patrick Chan (CAN) — 94.84
7. Adam Rippon (USA) — 85.72
8. Max Aaron (USA) — 81.28
16. Grant Hochstein (USA) — 74.81