After warming up for the season with victory at last month’s Autumn Classic International, Hanyu’s campaign begins in earnest in British Columbia as he competes in the first of his two Grand Prix assignments, with the NHK Trophy in Sapporo to follow in November.
Staying fit will be crucial for 24-year-old Hanyu, whose last two seasons have been plagued by injury.
An ankle ligament injury suffered in practice at last year's Rostelecom Cup kept him out of the Grand Prix Final and the Japanese nationals, but he returned to claim silver at the World Championships in Saitama in March.
It was the same ankle that almost prevented Hanyu from competing at PyeongChang 2018 when he injured it the year before, suffering a bad fall while attempting a quadruple Lutz in practice at the NHK Trophy 2017.
The Japanese skater recovered in time to win his second consecutive Olympic gold in South Korea, but his quad Lutz hasn’t been seen in competition since.
I live for the quad axel and that’s why I’m here skating. - Yuzuru Hanyu
That could change this season with Hanyu landing the quad Lutz during an ice show in Japan over the summer and also practising the quad flip, a jump currently not in his competitive repertoire.
But after the Autumn Classic, the Japanese skater said his primary goal remains the quad Axel, a four-and-a-half rotation jump never seen in competition.
“I live for the quad axel and that’s why I’m here skating,” Hanyu told media. “My biggest hope is that I will perfect ‘Origin’ [free program] by being able to land the Axel.
“I want to reach the level where I can master it in competition. So, I need to feel confident enough to be able to jump in competition. There’s a risk of getting injured so I need to do training and balance it with practice.”
While the technical content Hanyu will bring to Kelowna remains to be seen, his programs have already been confirmed, with the Japanese skater keeping his routines from last season – the Johnny Weir-inspired Otonal in the short program and Origin, a tribute to Hanyu’s idol Evgeni Plushenko, for the free.
Also representing Japan in the men’s field is Keiji Tanaka, fresh from an early-season victory at the U.S. Classic last month.
Italy’s Matteo Rizzo is another skater who has enjoyed a promising start to his campaign, following up podium finishes at Lombardia Trophy and the Ondrej Nepela Trophy with victory at the Shanghai Open.
With the Grand Prix Final set to be hosted in Rizzo’s native Italy in Turin in December, the 21-year-old will be targeting a podium spot.
Rizzo also spent some time training alongside Hanyu under coach Brian Orser in Toronto over the summer.
Trusova takes on established names
The women’s field in Kelowna is bursting with talent with at least three skaters hopeful of taking the win.
The biggest name is Olympic silver medallist and double world champion Evgenia Medvedeva who, like Hanyu, trains under Orser at the Toronto Cricket Club.
The 19-year-old struggled after leaving long-time trainer Eteri Tutberidze for Orser in the summer of 2018, but ultimately ended the season on a high note with bronze at the World Championships.
For the second time this season, the Russian goes up against reigning Grand Prix Final champion Rika Kihira.
The Japanese enjoyed a sensational debut senior campaign last season and, armed with her trademark triple Axel, got the better of Medvedeva at the Autumn Classic International.
But both women face stiff competition from a new face on the senior Grand Prix circuit – Alexandra Trusova.
The double world junior champion has three different quad jumps in her repertoire and has already hinted that she will be a strong contender in the senior ranks by helping Europe to victory in the free skate-only Japan Open.
She landed four quads to record a score which would have placed her fourth in the men's competition.
Fellow competitor Nathan Chen posted a video of Trusova’s performance to his Instagram with the caption “mind BLOWN”.
The 15-year-old trains with world and Olympic champion Alina Zagitova under Tutberidze, and looks set to make a big impact in her first senior Grand Prix season.
Another notable name on the women’s side is Bradie Tennell of the United States, who enjoyed a solid start to the season with second place at Skate America.
The American won the short program but was beaten to top spot in Vegas by another young quad-jumper, Anna Shcherbakova, who also trains under Tutberidze.
The reigning Grand Prix Final champions face competition in Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier, who won last month's Autumn Classic International in Oakville last month, registering the third-best overall score of the season so far.
In the pairs, Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro lead the home contingent but Russia’s world silver medallists Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov are favourites to come out on top in Kelowna.
Skate Canada Event Schedule
(All times local - UTC-7)
Friday October 25th
11:00 ICE DANCE - Rhythm Dance
12:38 LADIES – Short Program
16:15 PAIRS – Short Program
17:42 MEN – Short Program
Saturday October 26th
11:09 ICE DANCE – Free Dance
13:00 LADIES – Free Skating
16:55 PAIRS – Free Skating
18:32 MEN – Free Skating
The 2019/20 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating season calendar
October 18-20 - Skate America, Las Vegas
October 25-27 - Skate Canada, Kelowna
November 1-3 - Internationaux de France, Grenoble
November 8-10 - Cup of China, Chongqing
November 15-17 - Rostelecom Cup, Moscow
November 22-24 - NHK Trophy, Sapporo
December 5-8 - Grand Prix Final, Turin
Olympic Channel will be on the ground in Kelowna bringing you news, reaction and content from behind the scenes. Follow @OlympicChannel on social media.