Yuzuru Hanyu punched the air with a clenched fist, then gently brought it down from above his head, tapped his heart and nodded approvingly.
The Japanese megastar’s first competitive skate in eight months and since being sidelined by an ankle injury was a success.
He landed two quadruple jumps (Salchow, plus a toe loop in combination) in a 111.31-point short program (video here) to top the Japanese Championships short program on Friday. The free skate is Sunday, followed by the three-man Olympic team announcement.
Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, distanced Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno (101.88 points, second place) and world silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama (95.15, third place with a fall). Full scores are here.
“Everything went exactly as I’d planned it over six days of practice,” Hanyu said, according to Kyodo News.
Hanyu, Uno and Kagiyama are the favorites to make up the Olympic team given no other Japanese men ranked in the world top five this season or last season.
They are the primary international challengers to American Nathan Chen, who beat Hanyu in all four of their head-to-heads in this Olympic cycle.
Six weeks ago, Hanyu said he wasn’t “even at the starting line yet” in returning from right ankle ligament damage. Hanyu was sidelined due to that ankle in three of the last five seasons.
In 2018, he came back from missing two months of competition to repeat as Olympic gold medalist in his first competition in nearly four months.
Hanyu, 27, is going for a sixth national title, which would tie the most for a Japanese man in the last 50 years (Takeshi Honda).
Nobuo Satō holds the men’s record of 10 Japanese titles — consecutive in the 1950s and ’60s — before coaching some of Japan’s top skaters.
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