Hanyu Yuzuru is back.
The two-time Olympic champion figure skater is set to return over 10 months since he last put blade to competitive ice, aiming for a fifth Japanese title from 25-27 December in Nagano.
It has been a disrupted season for all elite athletes, Hanyu included, as he made his way back from his training base in Toronto, Canada, to spend time at home during the COVID-19 pandemic.
He will be joined by PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist Uno Shoma, who has not competed since winning last year's Japanese nationals, as well as rising teenager Kagiyama Yuma, who recently captured the gold medal at NHK Trophy in his Grand Prix debut.
Hanyu, Uno and Kagiyama headline a field that also includes familiar names such as Tanaka Keiji and Tomono Kazuki, in addition to up-and-comers like Honda Lucas Tsuyoshi and Sato Shun.
Back to skating after earning a degree
Neither Hanyu nor Uno skated in this season’s Grand Prix Series.
Hanyu opted out due to concerns surrounding his own health (he has asthma) and that of others.
Meanwhile Uno – who trains in Switzerland – was set to compete at the French Grand Prix before it was cancelled due to COVID-19 precautions.
With Four Continents initially scheduled for February 2021 in Sydney and since cancelled by the International Skating Union, the Japanese nationals could be the final time fans will see the skaters compete at a major event until the World Championships, still scheduled for late March in Stockholm.
In September, Hanyu earned his degree from Waseda University having initially started his studies in 2013 and completing much of them virtually.
His degree is in human information science, and he focused on digital data and 3D motion capture in relation to movement on the ice including his own jumping passes.
Hanyu has been applying some of his work in the classroom to what he does on the ice too.
He told Waseda’s website: “I've been walking in the world of figure skating, but I wanted to see myself expressed in numbers and data. The numbers support my senses, so it's also useful for competitions. Every time the scoring method is updated, I update my program. I still use it."
Choreography remains a question mark
While Hanyu used his Olympic season (2017-18) programs last year to compete, it is unclear what programs he will perform in Nagano.
Choreographer Jeffrey Buttle, the Torino 2006 bronze medallist, revealed in an interview in October that he had put together Hanyu’s short program over video, saying: “It turned out really great... I’m not going to spoil (anything) because that’s his program."
Buttle has assembled Hanyu’s short program each of the last five years, while renowned choreographer Shae-Lynn Bourne, a three-time Olympic ice dancer, has worked on Hanyu’s free skate the last five seasons.
Last season, Hanyu did speak about the sought-after quadruple Axel – still never done in competition – and in April of this year Orser told Olympic Channel that it was still top of mind for both skater and coach:
"Yuzu and I have talked about dealing with his quad Axel. He has fantastic technique and always has. He and I both agree it's going to be more of a physical thing, to get your body physically ready to manage that torque.”
Hanyu attempted the quad Axel in practice at the Grand Prix Final last December, delighting his fans in the arena in Torino, Italy, but falling on the jump.
Picking up where he left off
Hanyu would like to pick up right where he left off: His first Four Continents triumph completed a career 'Super Slam' of major junior and senior titles.
“It feels good, this result,” he said after winning in Seoul. “I really wanted to get a win here, so actually I’m glad.”
In Nagano, he seeks a fifth national title and a first since the 2015-16 season having missed the event for three years, and finishing runner-up to a resurgent Uno a year ago.