Yuzuru Hanyu won his fifth Japanese national figure skating title, tying the beloved Daisuke Takahashi in the record books and moving closer to a March showdown with Nathan Chen at the world championships.
Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, landed six quadruple jumps between two programs to tally 319.36 points and prevail by a whopping 34.55 over Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno. Yuma Kagiyama was third, likely rounding out the world team.
Hanyu skated two clean programs with all positive grades of execution on jumping passes for the first time since the December 2015 Grand Prix Final — when he was at the peak of his dominance, breaking world records in back-to-back competitions.
“Last year, it felt like I wasn’t developing anymore,” Hanyu said, according to Agence France-Presse. “It felt like there was nothing left to fight for. I think I was tired of fighting, and it felt like I could have quit any time. But I’ve come to realize that I enjoy the satisfaction you get from competing and coming through the hard times.”
Hanyu, after landing a quad Salchow and quad toe loop in Friday’s short program, hit a quad loop, quad Salchow and two more quad toes in the free skate (video here). Uno landed four quads among jumping errors in his free skate after falling on a quad toe in the short.
It marked Hanyu’s first Japanese crown since a run of four straight from 2012-15. He then missed three consecutive nationals due to injury or illness and took silver behind Uno last year.
Hanyu broke his tie with Uno at four national titles, tied the 2010 World champion Takahashi at five and moved one shy of Takeshi Honda, a two-time world medalist in the early 2000s.
Nobuo Sato holds the men’s record of 10 Japanese titles — consecutive in the 1950s and ’60s — before coaching some of Japan’s top skaters.
Hanyu, 26, performed this week for the first time since February, marking the longest span between competitions of his senior career.
He passed on the autumn Grand Prix Series, citing asthma, plus travel concerns for himself and his Canada-based coaches. Usually based in Toronto, Hanyu left for Japan earlier this year and has been practicing without his coaching team.
“As the national championships got closer, the third wave hit and I felt very conflicted over whether I should compete or not,” Hanyu said before nationals, according to AFP. “But thinking about the world championship, the Four Continents [in February] has been canceled so the national championship is the qualifying event for worlds, and it was compulsory that I compete.”
Worlds are in Stockholm. Chen, who outscored Hanyu in their last five head-to-head programs, is all but a shoo-in to be named to the U.S. team after nationals in Las Vegas in three weeks.
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