Hanyu targets ISU Grand Prix, Russians threaten Kihira

Hanyu returns to the elite six-skater event after a two-year absence looking to topple US rival Nathan Chen and lay the groundwork to reclaim the world title next March

Rika Kihira (AFP photo)

Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu will bid to become the first figure skater to win gold five times at the International Skating Union's (ISU) Grand Prix final in Turin starting on Thursday, with fellow Japanese Rika Kihira's women's crown under threat from four Russian rivals.

Hanyu returns to the elite six-skater event after a two-year absence looking to topple US rival Nathan Chen and lay the groundwork to reclaim the world title next March.

Hanyu, who turns 25 this week, won four consecutive Grand Prix Final titles between 2013 and 2016, and a fifth would see him overtake Russian great Yvegeny Plushenko and Irina Slutskaya.

The two-time Olympic gold medallist has been in hot form with two of the highest scores this season, and wins in Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy at home in Japan.

Two-time world champion Chen, 20, also has two wins in Skate America and the French Grand Prix, as he targets back-to-back titles in the final.

Chinese champion Boyang Jin, a two-time world bronze medallist, will be challenging for a podium place, in a field that also includes three first-time Grand Prix finalists -- Russian duo Alexander Samarin and Dmitri Aliev and France's Kevin Aymoz, completing the six-skater field.

But Hanyu has no doubt who is rival will be.

"I know it will be a fight between Nathan and me," he said.

Chen toppled Hanyu at worlds last year, and has been on a winning streak since finishing fifth at the 2018 Winter Olympics.

 

In the women's event, Kihira and US newcomer Bradie Tennell will be looking to gate-crash a Russian party in Turin's Palavela.

Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova wants to reclaim the title she lost last year to 17-year-old Kihira in Vancouver.

But Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova are also a threat in their first senior season, with two wins each in the Grand Prix series.

Kihira -- who had a golden run last season before finishing fourth at worlds -- finished second in Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy.

Zagitova, 17, is also without a win having finished second in the French GP and third in the NHK Trophy.

Russian national champion Shcherbakova, 15, won both Skate America and the Cup of China, and has performed two difficult four-rotation quadruple jumps in her free skate.

Trusova -- dubbed the "Quad queen" -- has been attempting four quad jumps in her programme on her way to wins in Skate Canada and the Cup of Russia.

Kostornaia, 16, won the NHK Trophy and in France.

US silver medallist Tennell, 21, is an outsider for the podium having earned her berth after a tie-breaker as four skaters finished equal on points.

In pairs, China's two-time world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong are favourites.

They are up against fellow Chinese Peng Cheng and Jin Yan; Canada's Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro, and three young Russian teams.

In ice dancing, four-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France, are on course to reclaim the title after new record scores in their Grand Prix series wins.

They missed last year's final through injury, with Americans Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue the defending champions.

 

Thursday

Pairs short programme (18:50); Men's short programme (20:10)

Friday

Ice dance - rhythm dance (17:30); Ladies' short programme (18:50); Pairs free skating final (19:55)

Saturday

Men's free skate final (12:00); Ice dance - free skate final (18:25); Ladies' free skate final (19:55)

 

 

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