Gangneung (South Korea)
Yuzuru Hanyu took a giant step towards defending his Olympic figure skating title with a flawless short programme on Friday as arch-rival Nathan Chen’s challenge came disastrously unstuck.
The Japanese star Hanyu showed no ill effects from the right ankle injury that sidelined him for three months to surge into a four-point lead with a score of 111.68.
Six-time European champion Javier Fernandez of Spain heads the chasing pack going into Saturday’s decisive free skate at the Gangneung Ice Arena on 107.58.
But Chen looks down and out after two major mistakes left him towards the back of the pack in 17th.
Hanyu’s bid to become the first since American Dick Button in 1948/52 to claim back-to-back Olympic titles could not have got off to a more encouraging start.
“I’m very happy that I skated with no elements I wasn’t satisfied with,” said the 23-year-old.
“I did whatever I had to do. I continued to make efforts for the two months during which I couldn’t skate. I want to show the results of the efforts (on Saturday).”
Since Sochi he has been accorded cult status in Japan and his every move and every jump was greeted by deafening cheers—and that was just in the warm-up.
From the moment the skating emperor catapulted his body into the air for an opening quad loop to his final combination spin, Hanyu looked every inch the man who will have gold hanging round his neck again in 24 hours.
His routine set to Chopin’s Ballade No.1 earned him 10 points more than the one he led the short programme with in Russia four years ago. —APP