Figure Skating

Hanyu Yuzuru returns to competitive ice and leads after short program at Japanese nationals; Uno Shoma third

Hanyu debuted a new rock-themed short program, while Youth Olympic Games champion Kagiyama Yuma had a strong skate to finish in second.

By Nick McCarvel ·

Hanyu Yuzuru is picking up right where he left off.

The last time we saw the two-time Olympic figure skating champion he was collecting his first Four Continents title in February, and the 26-year-old made a red-hot return on Friday (25 December), skating to a new rock-themed short program and barely putting a blade wrong to score a 103.53 and take the lead at the Japan national championships in Nagano.

Seventeen-year-old Kagiyama Yuma, the winner at this year's Lausanne 2020 Youth Olympic Games, was impressive himself with a 98.60. PyeongChang 2018 Winter Olympic silver medallist Uno Shoma is in third after day one, falling on a quadruple toe loop attempt. He sits at 94.22.

Hanyu 'Entertains' upon return

Skating to Robbie Williams' "Let Me Entertain You", Hanyu, clad in a shiny black jacket with shimmery gold trim, did just that: He connected on an opening quadruple Salchow, quad toe loop-triple toe in combination and then a triple Axel out of a step sequence, all executed without any major errors and each receiving positive grades of execution (GOEs), including a +3.66 for his Axel.

When he finished his program, Hanyu stayed on his knees on center ice, soaking in the applause from the limited number of fans in attendance in Nagano.

Hanyu said pre-event that he spent much of 2020 training alone due to COVID-19, and while awaiting his score sat in the Kiss and Cry alone, without a coach or mentor, only holding his patented Winnie the Pooh tissue box, a mainstay with him at any competition.

Usually based in Toronto and under the watchful eye of Calgary 1988 silver medallist Brian Orser, Hanyu returned home to Japan during the COVID-19 pandemic, opting out of the Japanese Grand Prix and instead focusing on himself and training on his own at home in what he described as a "really difficult" time period to take care of himself and his skating.

But 10 months after that Four Continents victory he showed little rust, and will now look to the free skate to try and capture his fifth Japanese national title (first since the 2015-16 season) and qualify for the Japanese worlds team, his stated goal at the outset of this event.

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'I was replaying the cheers from the past'

Hanyu would like to perform even stronger in the free skate.

"I was able to enjoy it but [I] wasn't happy with my performance, considering the points I got," he told reporters. "So I want to adjust myself and do my best tomorrow."

The arena is not fully ticketed in Nagano, and fans have been encouraged to clap to show their support but not yell or scream out, a noticeable difference - especially with Hanyu on the ice.

"I realised there wouldn't be any cheers," he said. "So in my mind I was replaying the cheers from the past that my fans gave me at my new programs or costumes. It was a new way to be cheered."

Hanyu said he chose the version of music that he did to try and bring joy to his fans watching around the world.

"I decided to pick bright music, considering how bad the news has been and what has been going on around the world," he explained.

"Despite the difficult time people are facing, they came all the way to see my performance. So I wanted to brighten them up." - Hanyu Yuzuru

Yuzuru HANYU

Figure Skating
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Number of medals

2 Olympic medals


Olympic Games

2 Olympic Games

Teenager Kagiyama second, continuing strong form

If you don't know it already, it's time to learn the name of Kagiyama Yuma.

The fast-rising 17-year-old has had a standout 12 months, and continued his strong form from winning at NHK Trophy last month with a gripping short program here, skating to "Vocussion", performed by Yo-Yo Ma.

While he doubled a planned triple toe in combination, Kagiyama didn't let that bother him, his step sequence and choreography matching the music. He received positive GOEs across the board on his jumping passes, including his aforementioned quad Salchow-double toe, a quad toe and then triple Axel.

"For this short program, I gave everything I could do and never wanted to miss it," he told reporters. "So I’m really glad I could finish it without errors.”

Kagiyama, along with his NHK Trophy win, also won at Lausanne 2020 in January, took bronze at Four Continents in February, then was the silver medallist at junior worlds in March. He was the third-place finisher at nationals last year behind Uno and Hanyu. He's coached by his father, Kagiyama Masakazu, a two-time Olympic figure skater himself.

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Fall knocks Uno to third

A single fall on his quad toe attempt cost Uno, the reigning four-time champion in Japan, nearly six points, putting him in third behind the upstart Kagiyama.

He told reporters that he was "extremely nervous" having not competed since Japanese nationals last year, and unsure of his progress training in Switzerland with coach Stephane Lambiel as he was unable to compete in the Grand Prix Series due to COVID-19 cancellations.

Though the fall was indeed costly, Uno looked at home back on the ice, using his upbeat "Great Spirit" short program from the 2019-20 season as a holdover. The judges appreciated his program components, scoring him just one point below Hanyu (47.32 to 46.14).

There are 10 points separating Uno and fourth-place finisher Tanaka Keiji, who scored a 83.61. Teenager Sato Shun is fifth with a 83.31, while 20-year-old Yamamoto Sato is in sixth, 82.60.

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