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Road to Pyeongchang begins at Skate America

PARIS (AFP) – 

Returning stars jostle alongside Olympic men’s champion Yuzuru Hanyu and women’s world title holder Evgenia Medvedeva as the pre-Olympic figure skating season gets underway at Skate America on Friday.

Less than a year and a half from the 2018 Winter Games in South Korea, skaters will be looking to lay the groundwork for their Olympic bids in the six-leg Grand Prix series and world championships in Helsinki in March.

Skaters compete in two assignments each with the top six in each discipline qualifying for the ISU Grand Prix Final from December 8-11 in Marseille, France.

Skate America will be headlined by young challengers such as China’s Jin Boyang, 19, and Japan’s Shoma Uno, 18, with the women’s event in Chicago including veterans Mao Asada, 26, and 25-year-old Ashley Wagner.

Uno, 18, finished third in last year’s Grand Prix final and scored higher than two-time world champion Javier Fernandez in the pre-season Japan Open this month.

Jin, 19, took bronze at the world championships.

Hanyu, who became the first skater to land a clean quadruple loop ever in competition earlier this month, will compete in Skate Canada from October 28-30, and the NHK Trophy at home in Japan in November.

Hanyu’s training partner Fernandez, 25, begins his campaign at the Cup of Russia from November 4-6, followed by the Trophee de France a week later.

Canada’s Patrick Chan, a former three-time world champion and Olympic silver medallist, competes in Skate Canada and the Cup of China.

Medvedeva, one of a strong contingent of Russian skaters, will be looking to confirm her status as the new star of women’s skating.

Fellow Russian Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, the 2015 world champion, did not defend her title last year but takes part in the Grand Prix series.

In her absence the 16-year-old Medvedeva broke the record for the highest free skate score ever taking the world title in her first senior year in Boston last April.

She warmed up for the season by scoring highest in the Japan Open and will compete in Skate Canada and the Trophee de France.

“It’s only the beginning of the new season,” said Medvedeva, after leading Japan’s Satoko Miyahara and Wagner in Saitama.

“I need to get the feel for my free programme but I believe that over the season it will become much, much better.”

Asada, a three-time world champion, is still chasing Olympic gold after silver in Vancouver 2010 as is Wagner who took her first world medal last year between teenagers Medvedeva and Anna Pogorilaya.

She wants to confirm her first world medal was not a fluke at the Sears Centre Arena in the Chicago suburb of Hoffman Estates.

Russia’s Julia Lipnitskaya withdrew from Skate America injured. Countrywomen Pogorilaya, Tuktamysheva, and Elena Radionova, all former world medallists, are competing in the series, but not Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova, who controversially won Olympic gold in Sochi ahead of South Korea’s Kim Yu-Na.

In pairs, two-time world champions Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford start their season at home in Skate Canada.

Ice dancing looks set for a battle with former two-time world ice dance champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir returning after their silver in Sochi, winning the Autumn Classic International in Montreal this month.

“What’s surprised me is how much we still enjoy it and we’re hoping we can keep that way all the way through to Korea (the 2018 Olympics),” said Moir, the 2010 Olympic champion.

They will compete at Skate Canada which and the NHK Trophy, where they will come up against France’s Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron, the two-time world champions.

ISU Grand Prix series:

Oct 21-23: Skate America at Chicago

Oct 28-30: Skate Canada at Mississauga

Nov 4-6: Cup of Russia at Moscow

Nov 11-13: Trophee de France at Paris

Nov 18-20: Cup of China at Beijing

Nov 25-27: HNK Trophy at Sapporo, Japan

Dec 8-11: Grand Prix final at Marseille, France

March 29-April 2: World Championships at Helsinki

© 2016 AFP