Hanyu prepares for a strong Hernandez challenge at GP Final
MARSEILLE, France (AP) Bidding to win the Grand Prix Final for the fourth straight year, Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan faces stiff competition as two-time defending world champion Javier Fernandez of Spain looks to upstage him again.
The Final, which is being held at the Palais Omnisport in Marseille, features the top six qualifiers in each discipline from the International Skating Union's GP series.
The 22-year-old Hanyu is a multiple world record holder and improved on two of his own records on his way to victory last year, where he was particularly strong in free skate. He also heads to the southern French seaport with the season's best score on the GP circuit, too, posting a whopping 301.47 points at NHK Trophy on home ice in Sapporo two weeks ago.
But Fernandez knows he can beat Hanyu when it counts.
He clawed back a considerable deficit on Hanyu to win the world title in April, despite skating with a swollen heel that prevented him from practicing. Fernandez got his season's best score at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow - reeling off three quads in the free skate.
Patrick Chan is bidding to win the Final for the third time, meanwhile, having clinched consecutive wins in 2010 and 2011.
The elegant Canadian skater recorded his best points tally at the Cup of China in Beijing, where he landed a quadruple-triple toe combination, quadruple toe and two triple Axels in the free skate to seal victory.
Japan's Shoma Uno will be looking to improve on his bronze medal from last year, while American teen Nathan Chen - last year's Junior Grand Prix champion - is competing in the event for the first time at senior level, having missed the worlds earlier this year through injury.
The favorite among the women appears clearer, with defending champion Evgenia Medvedeva of Russia in top form.
She leads the standings and boosted her confidence with a timely win at the Trophee de France in Paris last month - the sixth and last event on the calendar before the Final.
Countrywoman Anna Pogorilaya missed last year's Final but will be confident after winning the two events she entered this season.
In the pairs, two-time defending world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford of Canada bid to reclaim the title they won convincingly two years ago. They have two victories on the circuit this season and also the season's leading score.
Canadians will be strongly represented in the ice dance, too, with former Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir skating with supreme confidence, despite taking a break of two years from the sport.
The two-time world champions won their two events of the season, clinching the NHK Trophy with a record score of 195.84 points.
But the home crowd will be hoping that Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron - who have also won the worlds twice - can challenge strongly after winning impressively in Paris last month. They then finished second in Sapporo behind Virtue and Moir.
A strong U.S. presence also poses a threat. For the second straight season, three American couples made the Final.
World silver medalists Maia and Alex Shibutani - who are brother and sister; 2015 national champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates - runners-up for the past two years (check) - and Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue make up half the field.
The pairs and men's short program get underway Thursday, while the women's short is Friday, along with short dance in the ice dance and free skate in pairs.