(Reuters) – A rivalry that fizzled out in Pyeongchang four years ago may produce fireworks at the Beijing Games when double Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu battles American Nathan Chen in his quest for more figure skating glory.
The Japanese “Ice Prince” Hanyu will attempt to match Gillis Grafstrom’s 94-year record of three consecutive Olympic golds in the men’s singles event, four years after joining U.S. icon Dick Button as a back-to-back winner.
Widely regarded the finest skater of the modern era, Hanyu could stake his claim as the greatest of all time should he see off the threat of quad-jumping virtuoso Chen.
The pair’s rivalry was tipped to light up the Games four years ago but fell flat as then-teenager Chen stumbled through a calamitous short program in his Olympic debut to rule himself out of medal contention.
Now 22, Chen has bounced back magnificently through the Olympic cycle, claiming three world titles in succession to again loom as Hanyu’s chief threat at Beijing’s Capital Indoor Stadium.
It would be a risky bet against Hanyu, however, given his experience and track record performing on the biggest stage.
“When it is an Olympic Games, Yuzuru always shows up,” said former U.S. champion Adam Rippon.
“He always steps into the light of that moment.”
There will be no chance of a repeat winner in the women’s singles, however, with Pyeongchang champion Alina Zagitova lost in the tidal wave of brilliant Russian teens that has since swept over the sport.
Though barely heard of outside of Russia a few months ago, 15-year-old Kamila Valieva is the latest quad-jumping sensation from the stable of master coach Eteri Tutberidze.
She lead a Russian sweep of the women’s singles podium spots at the European championships and could easily do the same in Beijing.
Russian skaters have strength across the board, making them a major contender for the team title, but home fans will be hopeful Sui Wenjing and Han Cong can deny them gold in the pairs event.
Sui and Han, who hold the world record for total points in competition and took silver at Pyeongchang, were runners-up to Russians Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov at the 2021 world championships but felt they were only at 70-80% of their best after rushed preparations.
With iconic Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir retired after their second ice dance gold at Pyeongchang, Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron will hope their time has come in Beijing — and that their costumes stay intact.
Papadakis suffered a heartbreaking wardrobe malfunction in the short program at Pyeongchang but the French four-times world champions won hearts with their brave recovery to win silver.
(Reporting by Ian Ransom in Melbourne; Editing by Pritha Sarkar)