December 08, 2016

MARSEILLE, France (AP) Yuzuru Hanyu took the lead with an electrifying performance in the short program on Thursday to stay on course for a fourth straight Grand Prix Final figure skating title.

In perfect rhythm to the funky sounds of ''Let's Go Crazy'' by Prince, the Olympic champion brought the crowd to its feet at the Palais Omnisport, as he earned his season-best score of 106.53.

''This program can't be completed without the audience,'' Hanyu said through a Japanese translator. ''When I got out on the ice this morning I felt really comfortable. I feel like my body was well rested.''

Two-time former champion Patrick Chan of Canada was second, and defending two-time world champion Javier Fernandez was third after sloppy errors.

Although Hanyu had to slightly correct a landing on his opening quad loop, he was clean on his quad salchow and triple toe loop. Even coach Brian Orser was dancing along to the routine beside the rink as the crowd got increasingly louder.

Hanyu was probably the only one not totally impressed.

''My skating skill can still be improved and I can improve my jumps,'' he said.

Chan, a three-time world champion, put some pressure on him with his season-best score of 99.76.

''I felt pretty happy about today's performance,'' said Chan, also a two-time Olympic silver medalist. ''It's my first good short program internationally for a long time.''

But Fernandez's bid to upstage Hanyu at the Final after finishing runner-up in the past two years looks like a long shot.

The Spaniard just about recovered from a fall on his quad salchow and fell again on his flying sit spin to score 91.76.

''I wasn't happy for sure, more than one mistake this time,'' he said. ''We just have to go back to practice to find out what is going on with this short program. When I go to competition there are always mistakes. I just have to keep myself strong for the free program on Saturday.''

A comeback has precedence: At the worlds in April, he clawed back a considerable deficit on Hanyu to win.

The Americans lagged behind, Nathan Chen in fifth place and Adam Rippon in sixth.

''I was at the Final last year as a junior skater,'' he said. ''It's a huge step for me and it's cool to be competing with these top-level skaters. I'm excited.''

Rippon admitted to being nervous.

''It's great to be here. It's a bonus,'' he said. ''I want to put out good performances. I got the crowd on their feet today, so that's what my main goal was. I'm trying the least amount of quads, so my focus is to skate well overall.''

Russians Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov nailed all of their jumps for a season-best 78.60 to lead the pairs.

''We have managed to skate at the same level we trained for,'' Morozov said. ''Hopefully we can keep that trend going into the free program.''

They are ahead of Yu Xiaoyu and Zhang Hao, who also scored a season best, 75.34. The Chinese pair is working well in its first season, having won the Cup of China in Beijing last month.

Canadians Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford have a lot to do to win back the title they lost to Russians Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov last year. Duhamel and Radford were recent winners at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, but the two-time world champions are in third place here with 71.44 points after Duhamel made a couple of errors.

She put one hand on the ice landing slightly awkwardly on a triple lutz, and fell over backward on the throw triple axel.

''Well, it wasn't the way I wanted to have my birthday go,'' said Meagan Duhamel, who turned 31 Thursday.

Radford was also dejected.

''We're trying some really difficult elements, the triple Lutz and the throw triple axel,'' he said. ''It's frustrating because they were really good in practice, but they're not transferring into the performance and today they weren't even close. We're going to have to review this when we get home.''

It proved to be a tricky night for the Canadians, with Julianne Seguin and Charlie Bilodeau in last place with 60.86. They fell once each. Bilodeau fell back on the triple salchow, and Seguin tumbled forward on the throw triple lutz.

Natalia Zabiiako and Alexander Enbert of Russia skated with elegance to the melancholic sound of Georgi Sviridov's ''Snowstorm'' but a lack of technical difficulty put them in fifth (65.79) behind China's Peng Cheng and Jin Yang (70.84).

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