Mixed returns for skate stars ahead of Grand Prix season

The 2018-19 figure skating season is underway with all the big names back, except one.

With the stars of PyeongChang 2018 returning to action – with one notable exception – figure skating is back.

Double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu won the Autumn Classic despite missteps, while Evgenia Medvedeva was second in her first competitive outing since winning two Olympic silver medals.

And PyeongChang gold medallist Alina Zagitova's season start was delayed by a document mix-up.

Here are five stories to take from the weekend ahead of the Grand Prix season which starts with Skate America on 19-21 October in Everett, Washington.

Long live the king

Hanyu finished on top of the podium at the Autumn Classic in Oakville, but he was not at his brilliant best.

While he led the field by more than seven points after the short programme, the routine lacked his usual spark.

"I felt I needed to focus more until the end," said the Japanese.

In the free skate, he was again missing the sharpness which has made him one of the all-time greats in his sport.

Skating to 'Origin' by Edvin Marton, he opened his program with two quadruple jumps – a quad loop and then a quad toe, the latter receiving execution marks of +4 and +5.

But later he crashed down on his quadruple salchow attempt and finished second in the free skate, but with enough points to take the win.

He admitted: "I was really not ready to do this programme. This is where I am today. I must continue to work."

Hanyu will continue to work as he prepares for his Grand Prix debut in Helsinki on 2 November but he told Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview he is not thinking about competing at the 2022 Olympic Games in Beijing just yet.

“What I felt strongly is that it's really frustrating not to be able to give a good performance at a competition. I feel strongly that I want to be better.” - Yuzuru Hanyu

Zagitova delayed

Hanyu’s fellow PyeongChang individual champion Alina Zagitova was scheduled to make her 2018-19 competitive debut this weekend in Slovakia.

But she was unable to fly out to Bratislava for the Ondrej Nepela Trophy due to an issue with her travel documents, according to the Figure Skating Federation of Russia.

The reigning European and Olympic champion will instead make her season debut this week at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Oberstdorf, Germany.

The 16-year-old Russian's last competition was an unhappy three-fall free program at the World Championships in March which dropped her to fifth place.

Speaking recently to the International Skating Union, Zagitova said of the Worlds, "That was an important competition for me and this failure kind of motivated me probably."

This season, she will skate to music from 'The Phantom of the Opera' and 'Carmen.'

More work ahead for Medvedeva

Like her training partner Hanyu, two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva was far from perfect in her season opener at the Autumn Classic.

But one can hardly blame her as she adjusts to a new life in Canada after leaving Russia to train under Brian Orser in Toronto.

"First competition with new team, with new coach, with new everything," - Evgenia Medvedeva on her second place at the Autumn Classic

Despite an error on her final jump which cost her first place, the 18-year-old was undeterred.

"To be honest, I feel just amazing," she said shortly after her performance. "This competition was a really incredible experience for me."

Medvedeva is also hoping the incredible coaching knowledge she's received – both in Russia and in Canada – will lead to further success.

“Everybody knows that the Canadian skating school is so special. I think I have an incredible chance to get everything good from the Russian school and the Canadian school,” Medvedeva said.

"I feel a little bit special because I am the only one who has trained in Russia and then in Canada, basically."

Red, white and blue

American ladies' champion and Olympic team bronze medalist Bradie Tennell surprisingly beat Medvedeva to victory in Oakville.

Having been less than two points behind the Russian after the short programme, her solid and clean skate to ‘Romeo and Juliet’ earned her a score of 137.16 points which saw come out just on top.

For 20-year-old Tennell, this was her first senior international title.

"It’s definitely going to help my confidence," Tennell said. "I really just focus on myself and the goals that I have in mind and what I want to do out there."

Meanwhile, Team USA’s Jason Brown stumbled though his free skate to slip below Canada's Roman Zadovsky in the battle for the last spot on the podium.

Like Medvedeva, Brown has recently moved to Toronto to train with Orser.

"Each day, I’m learning something new," he said of the switch. "Each day, [my coaches] are helping me work through something, whether that me a mental thing, physically getting a jump or the pacing of a program."

This year's world champion Nathan Chen, who is also the reigning U.S. champion, recently enrolled at Yale University and is due to make his season debut at Skate America.

A name to remember

Another Orser protege, Jun Hwan Cha of South Korea, impressed at the Autumn Classic.

The 16-year-old scored 169.22 in the free skate, over three points more than Hanyu.

That was enough for second place having trailed the Japanese by seven points from the short programme.

オータムクラシックの表彰台に立つチャ選手(左)と羽生選手(中央) Skate Canada / Danielle Earl Photography
オータムクラシックの表彰台に立つチャ選手(左)と羽生選手(中央) Skate Canada / Danielle Earl Photographyオータムクラシックの表彰台に立つチャ選手(左)と羽生選手(中央) Skate Canada / Danielle Earl Photography

Cha’s performance certainly marks him out as a skater to watch.

The 2018 Olympian was the youngest competitor in the PyeongChang’s men’s singles in which he finished 15th.

We can expect to Cha next at Skate Canada in Laval, Quebec from October 26-28.

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