Hanyu cruises over Chan, claims Grand Prix Final gold

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Has Japan finally found the skater that can win the country its first gold medal in men’s figure skating? Yuzuru Hanyu just might be that man, the 18-year-old delivering a complete performance to capture the gold medal at the Grand Prix Final Friday in front of a home crowd, besting three-time world champion Patrick Chan.

Hanyu, a day shy of turning 19, carried a safe 12-point lead into the free skate following an epic short program. The teenager, the third-youngest Grand Prix Final champion in history, scored a 293.25 overall, easily beating Chan’s 280.08.

The Japanese crowd let out an audible gasp and screams when Hanyu opened his program with a hard fall on a quadruple Salchow. But Hanyu, coached by 1988 Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, dusted himself off to land eight triples in his free skate. He retains the Grand Prix Final crown for his country: Daisuke Takahashi won it a year ago.

Nobunari Oda, a substitute for an injured Takahashi this year, fell on his opening jump as well, but finished with the home crowd clapping along to “Wilheim Tell Overture” as he secured the bronze medal. Tatsuki Machida was fourth in a Japan-heavy field.

Of the three medalists, Chan was the only to stay on his feet in the free skate, but the 22-year-old from Canada stepped out of a triple flip-double toe combination and didn’t have the firepower to claw back from a 12-point deficit following the short program.

Last month, the reigning and three-time world champion set a world record with his scores at the Grand Prix of France, but Hanyu has now disrupted Chan’s Olympic favorite status, throwing the men’s medal picture for Sochi into a cloud of confusion.

Takahashi, the bronze medalist in Vancouver, is likely to factor into that conversation, as could three-time Olympic medalist Yevgeny Plushenko, should the 31-year-old Russian be fit enough to skate in Sochi in February.

Plushenko’s countryman Maksim Kovtun was strong in his free skate, but finished fifth overall in the six-man field.

Hanyu moved up a spot from his second-place finish at the Grand Prix Final. He beat Chan here a year ago, as well, the Canadian finishing third.

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