Gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu to make season debut at Cup of China
Olympic and world champion figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan will make his long-awaited return to the ice in his season debut at the Cup of China starting Friday.
Hanyu had been expected to take part in the Finlandia Trophy last month in Espoo, Finland, but decided to skip it as a precaution after injuring his back.
The 19-year-old won Japan’s first Olympic gold medal in men’s figure skating at the Sochi Olympics in February, then followed that performance with a world title the next month at home in Japan.
Arriving in Shanghai ahead of the Cup of China, Hanyu said he’s not feeling added pressure after becoming the first man to achieve the Olympic-world double in the same year since Alexei Yagudin in 2002.
"I’m not thinking about past results," he said. "I’m just focusing on the task at hand and want to enjoy the skating as much as possible."
His toughest competition in Shanghai will likely come from 18-year-old Han Yan of China, the defending Cup of China champion, and last year’s silver medalist, Maxim Kovtun of Russia. American Joshua Farris, the 2013 world junior champion, is also in the field.
The Cup of China is the third stop on the six-event Grand Prix circuit this season. The competition ends with the Grand Prix Final in December in Barcelona, Spain.
With Hanyu sitting out the first two Grand Prix events of the season, two other Japanese skaters stepped up to take the titles. Tatsuki Machida won the Skate America competition in suburban Chicago two weeks ago with the largest margin in a Grand Prix event in eight years. Countryman Takahito Mura was then victorious a week later at the Skate Canada event.
Hanyu said he expects his compatriots to push him for the remainder of the season. Neither is competing in Shanghai.
"I hope I can build on their momentum and carry the ball forward," Hanyu said.
The women’s event will be headlined by 16-year-old Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia, the world silver medalist in singles and Olympic gold medalist in the team event at Sochi.
She’ll face stiff competition from 17-year-old teammate Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who has already captured three titles this season, along with the silver at Skate America two weeks ago.
Also in the field are Kanako Murakami of Japan, Li Zijun of China and Gabrielle Daleman of Canada. There are also three Americans, led by 16-year-old Polina Edmunds, the 2014 U.S. nationals silver medalist. The reigning U.S. champion, Gracie Gold, who finished third at Skate America, is not competing.
In ice dancing, reigning world champions Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte of Italy will make their season debut against a field that includes the American siblings Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani, silver medalists two weeks ago at Skate America, and the new pair of Elena Ilinykh and Ruslan Zhiganshin of Russia.
In the pairs event, the Chinese teams of Peng Cheng and Zhang Hao — bronze medalists at Skate America — and Yu Xiaoyu and Jin Yang — the world junior champions — will look to capture the title in front of a home crowd.