Olympic gold medalist Hanyu favored to win world title
BOSTON (AP) The stuffed Winnie the Pooh that doubles as a box for tissues still accompanies Yuzuru Hanyu to his practices, resting on the boards in front of coach Brian Orser.
The Japanese star is no longer the promising teenager who won Olympic gold at age 19 in Sochi. Now 21, he has put up dominating wins and record-breaking scores this season. Heading into this week's world championships, his competitors seem to need a good-luck charm much more than Hanyu.
The problem for the rest of the field is that Hanyu's advantages go beyond his two quadruple jumps in the short program and three in the long. At December's Grand Prix Final, Hanyu set a record with 330.43 points to beat reigning world champion Javier Fernandez by more than 37. He boosted his score in nearly every way: bonus points for doing a quad and two triple axels later in his free skate, top marks for his spins. And his component scores, which include choreography and musical interpretation, were higher than those of Fernandez and Patrick Chan, the other past men's world champion who will compete in Boston this week.
That stems from Hanyu's commitment to perfecting his skating skills, enhancing his feel for the ice, Orser said.
''Some kids don't always have that patience,'' Orser said. ''He got it. He started seeing how everything else improved, not just technically. But the way he could develop a program when you have that balance and that sense of glide that comes along with that foundation. Then you can start really choreographing.''
The 25-year-old Chan was once the kid doing the big jumps that others couldn't match. Now, after taking a season off, the three-time world champ from Canada is the one playing catch-up with one quad in his short program and two in his long.
China's Jin Boyang, 18, plans four quads in his free skate, including the big points of a quad lutz. But he has lagged behind in his component scores, which allowed Chan to overtake Jin at last month's Four Continents Championships.
Hanyu is able to strike the balance between the big jumps and everything else in between. It may very well take a mistake or two from the Japanese star for another skater to win the title this week. It's happened before - including last year's worlds, when Hanyu was coming off a series of health problems. The title went to Spain's Fernandez, who also trains in Toronto with Orser, the two-time Olympic silver medalist.
In Sochi, Hanyu fell twice in his free skate. But that day also showed how the difficulty of his programs makes him so hard to beat, even when he stumbles. Chan needed to be perfect to overtake Hanyu, and he wasn't.
The first world championships in the U.S. since 2009 in Los Angeles open Wednesday with the short programs for the men and ice dancing.
Women: Two Russian teens are among the favorites for the title, but not the one who was the sensation of the Sochi team competition. Or the one who went on to win the individual Olympic gold medal. Or the one who earned the world title last year.
Not on Russia's team are Julia Lipnitskaia, the then-15-year-old who won team gold; Adelina Sotnikova, the individual Olympic champ at age 17; and Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, who won worlds last year at 18. That's how deep the Russian women are. This year's contenders are 16-year-old Evgenia Medvedeva, the Grand Prix Final and European champion, and Elena Radionova, 17, who won bronze at last year's worlds.
Gracie Gold, who was born in the Boston area, may be the Americans' best chance at an individual medal. The 20-year-old was fourth at worlds last year and at the Olympics. She has the jumps and artistry to make the podium and good vibes at TD Garden, where she won her first U.S. title in 2014. But she has never put everything together at a major international competition.
And with the abilities of the Russians and Japan's Satoko Miyahara, a medal could be hard to come by if Gold is anything less than perfect.
Pairs: The Olympic gold and silver medalists from Russia - Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov, and Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov - skipped last year's world championships, when Canada's Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford won. Now both Russian teams are back to challenge the Canadians in a deep field that also includes China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong.
Ice Dance: The Americans' best chance at a medal - and a world title - again comes in ice dance. Madison Chock and Evan Bates won silver last year, but this season they've been overtaken by siblings Maia and Alex Shibutani, who hail from Connecticut. France's Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are the defending world champs, and Canada's Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje won the Grand Prix Final.