Yuzuru Hanyu opens season with win; Nathan Chen challenge coming

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Yuzuru Hanyu began his season the way he did three of the previous four years — by winning the lower-level Autumn Classic in Canada. Hardly a surprise. The real head-turner would be if he can end it with a victory, too.

Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion who was beaten by Nathan Chen for last season’s world title, cruised the last two days against a field lacking any other top-10 finishers from worlds.

Though the Japanese megastar fell on his opening quadruple Salchow in Friday’s short program, he landed four quads in Saturday’s free skate (the first two with turnouts on the landings). He totaled 279.05 points, distancing Frenchman Kevin Aymoz by 16.57.

Hanyu’s attention turns to the Grand Prix Series. He competes at Skate Canada in October and NHK Trophy in November. But the most anticipated events are December’s Grand Prix Final, likely the first time he and Chen go head-to-head this season, and the world championships in Montreal in March.

Though Hanyu has the biggest prize of all, Chen outscored him comfortably at their last three programs dating to the PyeongChang Winter Games free skate. Hanyu has never faced such a rival since overtaking Canadian Patrick Chan as the world’s best six years ago.

“I have never seen him at this time of the year to be so focused,” coach Brian Orser said before the Autumn Classic. “When we were trying to surpass Patrick Chan, [Chan] was the benchmark. … We had to play to Patrick’s strengths, which was components [artistry]. … We had to build a plan to catch them and exceed them [the components] to get where he wants to be. Now, to get where he wants to be, he has to use himself as the measure.”

Earlier Saturday, Russian 15-year-old Anna Shcherbakova became the second woman to land a quadruple jump in senior international competition. She hit a quad Lutz en route to winning her senior international debut at Lombardia Trophy, a lower-level event in Italy.

Shcherbakova, the world junior silver medalist, overtook 2015 World champion Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who landed three triple Axels between both programs, two of them with negative grades of execution. South Korean 15-year-old You Young, who finished third, also landed triple Axels in both programs with negative grades.

Quads and triple Axels, rare in senior women’s skating before this season, are looking more and more necessary to be favored for medals at upcoming global competitions.

Shcherbakova also landed a quad Lutz in winning last season’s senior Russian Championships, where she beat Olympic gold and silver medalists Alina Zagitova and Yevgenia Medvedeva.

Two weeks ago, 14-year-old national champion Alysa Liu became the first American woman to land a quad at her junior international debut.

The figure skating season continues next week with a Junior Grand Prix in Poland (featuring Liu), the U.S. International Classic in Salt Lake City (with U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou) and two-time world junior champion Alexandra Trusova in her senior international debut in Slovakia.

NBC Sports researcher Sarah Hughes (not the Olympic figure skater) contributed to this report from the Autumn Classic.

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