Hanyu heads skating stars out to melt ice
GANGNEUNG – Agence France-Presse
Yuzuru Hanyu’s showdown with quad maestro Nathan Chen and the tussle between Russian teenagers Alina Zagitova and Evgenia Medvedeva headline Olympic figure skating which gets underway Feb. 9.
Hanyu, one of Pyeongchang’s poster boys, has happily won his race to recover from serious injury to defend his Sochi 2014 crown.
All of Japan were willing on their “Ice Prince” who is aiming to become the first to secure back-to-back men’s titles since American Dick Button in 1952.
The 23-year-old from Sendai is the polished product, combining innate technical ability with emotionally intelligent performances.
But the right ankle injury he suffered in November has seen his standing as favorite for a repeat gold slip.
Chen too is in top form.
The Salt Lake City-born son of Chinese immigrants has emerged as a serious contender to Hanyu’s crown with his high risk quad-heavy routine.
From October to December Chen won three Grand Prix competitions, defeating Hanyu along the way, before an emphatic triumph in the U.S. championships last month.
“Eighteen years we’ve been looking at the rings and now we’re here. It’s really cool to have that happen,” said the excited 18-year-old on Feb. 7.
Others with rightful claims on Hanyu’s crown are his compatriot and Sochi runner-up Shomo Uno, Canada’s Patrick Chan, and China’s Jin Boyang.
Like Hanyu, Medvedeva’s Olympic build-up to the women’s title was marred by injury.
The two-time world champion returned after a two month lay off at the European Championships in mid-January, but was edged out by her 15-year-old training partner Zagitova, who has enjoyed a sensational first season on the senior circuit.
Both are competing as “Olympic athletes from Russia” (OAR) with their country serving a ban for state sponsored doping.
Others in contention are Italy’s Caroline Kostner, who picked up bronze four years ago and Canadian duo Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman.
Two more Canadians, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, are out to follow up their 2010 ice dance gold after silver in Sochi.
But they will have their work cut out to stop French world record breakers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron hitting the jackpot on their Winter Games debut.
In the pairs, China’s world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong will be keeping a close eye on Aljona Shevchenko and Bruno Massot, the Germans out for revenge after silver at the worlds.
The world’s eyes will be trained on Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik, the couple representing North Korea.
Medvedeva meanwhile warms up for her singles bid in the team event where she will be helping to defend the crown for Russia, even if Olympic history books record the team’s country code as OAR.
Canada led by Chan is top ranked to go one better after Sochi silver.