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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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MORE: 2019 Grand Prix figure skating assignments

Bernard Lagat commits to Olympic marathon trials, eyes age record

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Bernard Lagat, a 44-year-old, five-time Olympian, reportedly said he will race the Olympic marathon trials on Feb. 29 in a bid to break his own record as the oldest U.S. Olympic runner.

“I feel like I can still improve,” Lagat said, according to Runner’s World. “I’m going to give it my best.”

Lagat, a two-time Olympic 1500m medalist, moved to the marathon after becoming the oldest U.S. Olympic runner in history at the Rio Games, placing fifth in the 5000m.

He clocked 2:17:20 in his 26.2-mile debut at the 2018 New York City Marathon. He lowered it to 2:12:10 at the Gold Coast Marathon in Australia on July 7 but did not previously commit to entering the trials.

If Lagat finishes in the top three at the marathon trials, he is in line to become the third-oldest U.S. Olympic track and field athlete in history. The oldest are race walker John Deni (49 years old in 1952) and hammer thrower Matt McGrath (48 years old in 1924), according to the OlyMADMen.

Lagat ranks outside the top 20 among U.S. marathoners in this Olympic cycle. The fastest are Galen Rupp (2:06:07), Leonard Korir (2:07:56, from Sunday’s Amsterdam Marathon) and Scott Fauble (2:09:09).

No American has competed in six Olympics in track and field. Lagat’s first two Olympic appearances were for Kenya.

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Natalie Geisenberger, Olympic luge champion, will not race this season

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For the first time in eight years, there will be a new World Cup women’s luge champion.

Germany’s Natalie Geisenberger — the seven-time defending champion and two-time defending Olympic singles gold medalist — announced that she isn’t sliding this season because she and her husband are expecting their first child in April.

“Our happiness is on the way,” Geisenberger said on her Facebook page.

Geisenberger plans to return next season and still has hopes to compete at the 2022 Beijing Olympics, where she could match fellow German great Georg Hackl’s feat of winning three consecutive singles golds.

With Geisenberger not sliding this season, the top returning women from last year’s World Cup standings now are Julia Taubitz of Germany and Summer Britcher of the U.S. — second and third, respectively, in 2018-19.

Geisenberger has a luge record-tying four Olympic golds in all, being part of Germany’s victories in the team relays in Sochi in 2014 and Pyeongchang in 2018 as well.

Her 49 World Cup singles wins are another record, and she’s one of two sliders to win seven consecutive World Cup titles — Austria’s Markus Prock took the men’s championships each year from 1990-91 through 1996-97.

Geisenberger’s break from sliding only adds to how the World Cup standings — and the German roster — will look very different this season. Dajana Eitberger, who was fourth in last season’s World Cup standings, is also pregnant and expecting a baby in February. And Tatjana Huefner, who was sixth overall last season, has retired.

Huefner won five consecutive World Cup titles before Geisenberger took over and began her seven-year streak of championships. Geisenberger earned medals 11 times in 12 singles races last year — six golds, four silvers and one bronze.

“We are so happy for you even though we will miss you this season!” two-time Olympic singles gold medalist Felix Loch of Germany wrote in a message to Geisenberger on Instagram.

Geisenberger has been in the top three of the World Cup standings in 12 consecutive seasons. She was third in 2007-08, finished second in each of the next four seasons, and then began her title streak in 2012-13.

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MORE: U.S. luge star adds doubles after Olympic singles medal