Yuzuru Hanyu leads Japanese figure skating nationals, ends longest break of career

Yuzuru Hanyu
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Yuzuru Hanyu returned to a familiar place after his longest break between figure skating competitions: the top of the standings.

The two-time Olympic champion landed a quadruple Salchow and a quad toe loop, tallying 103.53 points in the Japanese Championships short program on Friday. Video is here.

Hanyu, who was given zero points for one spin, leads by 4.93 over 17-year-old Yuma Kagiyama going into Saturday’s free skate in Nagano. Fans were in attendance but were reportedly encouraged not to cheer loudly to reduce the risk of coronavirus spread.

“Although my performance wasn’t worth the score I got, I managed to land all my jumps,” Hanyu said, according to Agence France-Presse, after a program to “Let Me Entertain You” by Robbie Williams. “To be honest, I was a bit disappointed that I couldn’t hear any cheer. But I felt that people watching on TV and over the internet would be cheering at home, so I was able to enjoy myself.”

Shoma Uno, the Olympic silver medalist and four-time Japanese champion, is in third after falling on a quad toe and lacking a jumping combination.

Hanyu won four consecutive Japanese titles from 2012-15, then missed three consecutive nationals due to injury or illness before taking silver behind Uno last year.

Skaters are competing for three spots on Japan’s team for March’s world championships in Stockholm. There, Hanyu is expected to resume his rivalry with American Nathan Chen, who outscored Hanyu in their last five head-to-head programs.

Hanyu is skating in competition for the first time since February. He passed on the autumn Grand Prix Series, citing asthma, plus travel concerns for himself and his Canada-based coaches. Usually based in Toronto, Hanyu left for Japan earlier this year and has been practicing without his coaching team.

“As the national championships got closer, the third wave hit and I felt very conflicted over whether I should compete or not,” Hanyu said before nationals, according to AFP. “But thinking about the world championship, the Four Continents [in February] has been canceled so the national championship is the qualifying event for worlds, and it was compulsory that I compete.”

Later Friday, defending champion Rika Kihira topped the women’s short with 79.34 points, a triple Axel and a one-handed cartwheel, distancing PyeongChang Olympian Kaori Sakamoto by 7.48.

Satoko Miyahara, a four-time national champion and two-time world medalist, was sixth. Japan also has three women’s spots at worlds.

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