Nobody can accuse the last two male figure skating world champions of ducking the competition.
Yuzuru Hanyu and Javier Fernández, training partners who combined to win every global title since 2014, open their Olympic seasons by competing against each other this week.
The Japanese megastar and the Spanish trailblazer headline the Autumn Classic, a lower-level event in Quebec starting Thursday.
The men’s short program is Friday (8:15 p.m. ET) and the free skate Saturday (8 ET). A live stream is here.
Showdowns like this 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.
But first they face off in Quebec.
Hanyu is the decided favorite after winning last season’s world title by breaking his own free skate record score. He moved up from fifth after the short program, while Fernández dropped from first after the short to fourth.
However, Hanyu has proven beatable early in the season, losing his first two international events in 2014, then one of his first two in 2015 and 2016.
More pressure is on Fernández, who missed the podium at the two biggest events last season — worlds and the Grand Prix Final. He is 26 years old. Aside from Hanyu, every medalist at worlds and the Grand Prix Final was a teen.
Another world champion makes an international season debut this week — Russian Yevgenia Medvedeva.
She skates at the lower-level Nepela Trophy in Slovakia on Thursday and Saturday. The 17-year-old is on the longest major winning streak in singles skating in 30 years, having not lost since November 2015.
The Nepela field includes the only woman to beat Medvedeva in a senior competition — countrywoman Yelena Radionova. But Radionova faded to fifth at last year’s Russian Championships and is in a battle just to make the Olympic team.
Medvedeva might better be judged against two women who aren’t in Slovakia but won B-level events last week.
Alina Zagitova, 15 and the 2017 World junior champion, won her senior international debut in Italy with 218.46 points. That score would have won silver at last season’s senior worlds.
Marin Honda, 16 and the 2016 World junior champion, won her senior international debut in Salt Lake City with 198.42 points.
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