Figure Skating Winter Olympics

Olympic Figure Skating Men’s Singles Preview: Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen, Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno all vying for the gold

With the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics in full swing, it’s nearly time for the Men’s Singles Figure Skating event to get underway. If you’ve never watched figure skating before, either at the Olympics or an international competition, expect to see some amazing displays of gravity-defying jumps, spins and twirls by the world’s best. Here’s five of the top contenders for the gold medal across this week.

The Favourite – Nathan Chen (USA)

In recent times, Nathan Chen has been lighting up the world of figure skating. One of two true favourites for the gold medal at this year’s iteration of the Winter Olympics, the 22-year-old is one of skating’s biggest faces especially in the United States where he’s cultivated a large fandom and is being pushed as one of Team USA’s biggest athletes at the 2022 Beijing Games.

Who is Nathan Chen?

Before the 2021 Skate America last October, Chen was undefeated for three years going all the way back to the previous Winter Olympics in PyeongChang. Since that fifth-place finish at PyeongChang, Chen has been nigh-on robotic in competitions, constantly landing multiple quadruple jumps and setting two new world records – both at the 2019/20 Grand Prix Final with a 224.92 free skate and a 335.30 combined total.

However, Chen has proven to be human at points. Those three undefeated years didn’t come without let-offs, mistakes and drops in form. In the previously mentioned Skate America, Chen fell on his first quad jump and landed poorly on the second in his short program then doubled two of his six planned quad jumps in the free skate to finish third.

The week after, Chen was back to his usual ways – placing first at the 2021 Skate Canada Internationals with a 48-point margin over second place American Jason Brown. The 2022 U.S Championships in mid-January saw the 22-year-old win his sixth consecutive title at the event in preparation for the Winter Games.

His most recent performance though came just three days ago – skating alongside his Team USA colleagues in the Mixed Team event, he set an incredible 111.71 short program score, a score just 0.11 off of Yuzuru Hanyu’s world record and a personal best for the American.

If Chen continues this form going into the Men’s Singles Short Program tomorrow, he’s sure to be favourite to take his first Olympic gold after the Free Skate on Wednesday.

What to expect:

A consistent dazzling display of quadruple jumps – of which Chen holds the highest score ever given to a skater (in the new ISU scoring system) on four jumps; 4Lz (16.26), 4F (15.40), 4S (14.83) and 4F+3T (20.23) and second highest on another four; 4T (13.71), 4T+3T (18.46), 4T+1Eu+3S (17.01), 4T+1Eu+3F (19.14).

Also expect some Elton John in the free skate on Wednesday. Chen greatest ever skate at the 2019/20 Grand Prix Final had a medley of Elton’s greatest hits, including Goodbye Yellow Brick Road and Rocketman and he’s bought it back for the 2021/22 season.

The Defending Champion – Yuzuru Hanyu (Japan)

Yuzuru Hanyu is almost colloquially regarded as the most complete and greatest figure skater of all time. It’s a testament to the perfection he’s achieved of his craft that even when he’s only skated in three events over the last two seasons, he’s still considered a big favourite to retain his double-Olympic titles.

Who is Yuzuru Hanyu?

The Greatest Of All Time. Hanyu is a two-time World Champion and was the first man to win back-to-back Olympic titles (2014, 2018) since the U.S skater Dick Button in 1948 and 1952. Now he’s back for a third consecutive Olympic title, something only achieved by Swedish skater Gillis Grafström (1920, 1924, 1928).

Hanyu won his second Olympic title in herculean circumstances, overcoming an ankle ligament injury suffered in November 2017, just three months before the Olympics. Despite only making it back onto the ice in January and executing triple and quadruple jumps just two weeks before the competition, Hanyu performed a flawless short program and convincing free skate to take his second Olympic gold.

Hanyu would re-injure his ankle in 2018 at the Rostelecom Cup after his short program but would place first in the free skate the next day on painkillers and used a changed routine to win.

2019/20 would see Hanyu achieve the Super Slam of Figure Skating – winning both major junior-level international competitions (World Junior Championships and the Junior Grand Prix Final) and the four major senior-level international competitions (Olympic Games, World Championships, Grand Prix Final and Four Continents Championship/European Championships) across his career, picking up the final piece of the puzzle in the Grand Prix Final.

In 2021, Hanyu would skate in limited competitions due to Covid-19 but placed third at the World Championships behind compatriot Yuma Kagiyama in second and Nathan Chen in first. The result was his worst at a competition since 2014. In November last year, Hanyu would again injure his ankle ligament after a fall in a practice session. He would come back to win the Japan Championships while attempting his first ever quad Axel jump – a jump that no human has ever successfully pulled off – in January in preparation for the Games this week.

Hanyu only arrived in Beijing yesterday and first took to the ice just a few hours back as he looks to defend his crown.

Will history repeat itself for a third time? Can Hanyu make another incredible comeback from an ankle injury to win a third Olympic title? His adoring fans would love to think so.

What to expect:

Winnie the Pooh bears raining onto the ice when he finishes his routine. I’m not kidding. It’s a thing.

Also expect his attempt to land history’s first ratified quadruple Axel jump. In an interview after the Japan Championship, he spoke about how he’s trained for the jump and how to use it.

“I’m using the quad Axel as a weapon. It won’t be like this time. I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to win.”

If Hanyu does land the quad Axel, the cacophony of noise expected in the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing will be off the charts and Hanyu could beat Chen for the first time since 2018, and again for the Olympic crown.

The Newcomer – Yuma Kagiyama (Japan)

Seen by many as the soon-to-be bearer of Yuzuru Hanyu’s torch, Yuma Kagiyama comes into the 2022 Winter Olympics with pressure on his shoulders. Already a Junior Winter Olympic Champion at 16, the now 18-year-old will look to cement himself as the future face of Japanese figure skating with a medal placement at his first senior Games.

Who is Yuma Kagiyama?

In just his second senior season, Kagiyama made an impressive start in the 2020/21 season, winning on his Grand Prix event debut at the 2020 NHK Trophy. Kagiyama would take bronze in his national Japan Championships behind Hanyu and Shoma Uno and went into the 2021 World Championships alongside his compatriots.

It was a shock result at the 2021 World Championships for Kagiyama as he took the silver medal over his idol Hanyu and behind Chen having placed second in both the short program and free skate, landing three clean quad jumps in the free skate to hold onto his silver medal. 

Kagiyama will look to make it a breakout season for him though, having won all three international competitions he’s entered this season including two Grand Prix events in November; the 2021 Gran Premio d’Italia in Turin and the 2021 Internationaux de France, the other event being the Asian Open in October.

The 18-year-old definitely has the chance to take at least a silver medal at the Games and whilst that would be considered an upset, it’s not out the realm of possibility. If he took the gold, he’d be the youngest Olympic champion of all time.

What to expect:

Him to set new personal records – he’s already broken his best free skate score at the 2022 Winter Olympics in the team event, earning first place and 10 points for Team Japan with a score of 208.94. His short program best of 100.96 is beatable and therefore so is his combined total best.

As well as that, Kagiyama has Michael Bublé’s When You’re Smiling for his short program and a slew of epic Hans Zimmer tracks from the 2000 Best Picture winner Gladiator for his free skate.

The Dark Horse – Shoma Uno (Japan)

The silver medallist from four years ago, Shoma Uno has been a staple in the scene of figure skating for some time now and he’s gunning for his first Olympic gold at the second time of asking.

Who is Shoma Uno?

Shoma Uno has reached a point in his career that he’s yet to surpass. If he’s going to win the gold medal, it needs to be here. His last few seasons show him to be a serial winner in the Grand Prix events and four straight wins in the Japan Championships (2016-19) but he just misses out on the bigger stages including five second place finishes in the 2017/18 season and two fourth place finishes in the last two World Championships.

A Four Continents win in 2019 after a strong free skate showing and in more recent times, his second place at the 2021 Skate America meant him and Vincent Zhou were the first to beat Chen for over three years at an international event.

The 2021 NHK Trophy win in November could be pinned down to Hanyu’s withdrawal but that doesn’t take away from the fact Uno beat Zhou by almost thirty points to take the event win. He’s also already hit a new personal best at this year’s Games – a 105.46 in the Short Program, to give Team Japan nine points in the team event, was only beaten by Chen’s 111.71.

What to expect:

Bettering his 2018 silver medal will be an upset to many if Uno pulls it off – however a repeat of his silver medal can be an aim for the 24-year-old. He’d have to beat at least one of his compatriots though in Hanyu or Kagiyama to do that, something which he’s only done once in the last two seasons (beating Kagiyama at the 2021 Japan Championships).

The Outsider – Vincent Zhou (USA)

Not always consistent but continually entertaining nonetheless, Vincent Zhou won’t be fighting for the gold by any means but the bronze medal will be the one in his sights as he’ll hope to improve on his sixth place finish at the 2018 PyeongChang Games. However, Zhou tested positive for Covid-19 whilst in the Beijing camp yesterday putting his medal hopes into doubt. If he doesn’t test negative before Tuesday’s short program, he’ll be forced to sit out until he returns two negative PCR tests.

Who is Vincent Zhou?

Vincent Zhou’s last two seasons have been an up-and-down affair. A 25th place finish at the 2021 World Championships after failing to cleanly land a single fully rotated jump meant a disappointing end to his season and an unconfirmed future without a berth to Team USA’s trip to Beijing for the Winter Olympics.

Following his victory at the 2021 CS Nebelhorn Trophy, which secured him a place in this year’s Games, Zhou went to Skate America looking for a medal placement in his first Grand Prix assignment of the season. He ended up with the gold and his first Grand Prix competition win in a shock upset, breaking compatriot Chen’s three-year unbeaten run in all competitions.

After his disappointing showing at the 2021 NHK Trophy, he would again disappoint in the free skate at the 2022 U.S Championships, taking the bronze medal just 0.38 points over Jason Brown. Zhou also finished a regrettable third in the free skate event in this Games’ team event, behind Russia’s Mark Kondratiuk and Kagiyama.

What to expect:

A bronze medal at most – Zhou is certainly not in the running for the gold and isn’t likely for the silver either. The four already mentioned will more than likely fill in for one another if someone makes a mistake or falls. Zhou also admitted his body “froze up” during his NHK Trophy free skate last year which puts doubts in my mind as to whether he can perform at the big moment – if he even skates at all.

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