Yuzuru Hanyu

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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 contributed to this report from the Autumn Classic.

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Who are Japan’s most visible athletes ahead of Tokyo Olympics?

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No surprise, Yuzuru Hanyu garnered the most major TV coverage of any Japanese athlete in 2018.

Nihon Monitor, a media research and analysis company in Japan, reported that the double Olympic champion figure skater received 186 hours, 26 minutes of TV time last year among six major domestic networks.

Other PyeongChang Olympic medalists made the list: figure skater Shoma Uno (fourth, 94 hours) and speed skaters Nao Kodaira (fifth, 87 hours) and Miho Takagi (sixth, 85 hours).

The only athlete in the top eight with Tokyo Olympic hopes was tennis player Naomi Osaka, who ranked third with 118 hours, one spot behind Los Angeles Angels phenom Shohei Ohtani (177 hours).

Three soccer players and yokozuna Hakuhō Shō rounded out the top 10.

Osaka, a 21-year-old born in Osaka to a Japanese mother and a Haitian father, has lived in the U.S. since age 3. She won the U.S. Open in September in a memorable final with Serena Williams. She captured the next Grand Slam, the Australian Open in January, to become world No. 1.

“Every time the Japanese press is at a tournament they always talk about the Tokyo Olympics,” Osaka said in June, according to the Times of London.

Osaka just missed the 2016 Rio Games. She was 87th in the world on the rankings cutoff date. The lowest-ranked player to make the Olympic women’s singles field — outside of continental/tripartite/host country representation — was No. 86. Osaka could have been ineligible anyway because she had yet to compete for Japan in Fed Cup.

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Yuzuru Hanyu to miss Japan Nationals for third straight year

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Double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will miss the Japan Figure Skating Championships for a third straight year and the second straight time due to a right ankle injury.

“I was doing everything I could to make the national championships, so I’m very disappointed that I cannot participate,” Hanyu said in a statement, according to Japanese media. “I will make an effort to return to competition as soon as the pain and limitations are gone.”

Hanyu was still named to Olympic and world championships teams the last two years despite missing nationals, which are held the week leading up to Christmas. That process should repeat this year ahead of worlds in Japan in March.

Hanyu injured his right ankle in a hard practice fall Nov. 17, hours before winning Rostelecom Cup, and then hopping on crutches backstage. He then withdrew from his next competition, the Grand Prix Final last week.

Hanyu and coach Brian Orser reportedly said this injury is not as serious as last autumn’s right ankle problem (damaged ligaments) that kept him off the ice for more than a month.

Hanyu has the highest score in the world this season by 14.7 points over American Nathan Chen, but they have not gone head-to-head since the PyeongChang Olympics.

Olympic and world silver medalist Shoma Uno won Japanese Nationals the last two seasons in Hanyu’s absence. Hanyu won it four straight years before that.

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