World Team Trophy: Hanyu, Chen to meet again and other things to watch for

It’s the final major event of what has been a stop-and-start figure skating season, as six nations bring teams to Osaka for the uniquely formatted team competition.

By Nick McCarvel

Just three weeks after the world championships in Stockholm, some of the best figure skaters on the globe are set to converge again.

That would be for the World Team Trophy, held every other year, and this year set for Osaka, Japan, 15-17 April.

Two-time Olympic champion Hanyu Yuzuru and three-time worlds winner Nathan Chen will face off as teams from Japan, the U.S., Canada, France, Italy and the Figure Skating Federation of Russia (FSR) do battle.

In the unique team format, skaters earn points for their placement in both the short and long programs, with higher points awarded to the top finishers. The teams represent the best in skating from the past two seasons (2019-20 season and 2021 worlds), though China opted out of the event (replaced by France).

It’s the culmination of a stop-and-start year for skating, which saw the cancellation of two Grand Prix Series events, the Grand Prix Final, Four Continents and the European Championships, as well as a host of domestic and lower-level International Skating Union (ISU) events.

The ISU World Championships were held in late March in Stockholm, with Covid measures in place - and no fans. Chen won his third consecutive world title, while FSR skaters Anna Shcherbakova, Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov as well as Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov captured their respective firsts, too.

So, who ends the pre-Olympic season on a high? Here, five things to watch for in Osaka in the final major figure skating event of the season.

Hanyu, Chen to meet three weeks after worlds

After not facing off for some 15 months, Hanyu and Chen will go head-to-head in the men’s singles event again, after Chen won a 10th consecutive international gold at worlds (dating back to March 2018), though Hanyu did win the short program behind brilliant skating.

Chen leapt from third to first in the free skate, skating masterfully himself having fallen in the short.

After worlds, he said of potentially going to World Team Trophy: “I would love to be there. Every competition, especially in this season [is important]. The more [events] you can go to, the better it is for me just to learn, as long as it's done safely.”

Hanyu, for his part, said he had continued to practice the quadruple Axel, which has never been done before in competition. He opted not to try it at worlds, so could we see it in Osaka?

“I want to go back to working on my quad Axel again because I want to be the very first person to land it cleanly in an official competition,” a determined Hanyu said via an interpreter in Stockholm.

The men’s field is one to salivate over, as Uno Shoma, Mikhail Kolyada, Jason Brown and Kevin Aymoz are set to feature. World silver medallist, 17-year-old Kagiyama Yuma, is Japan’s first-alternate.

Shcherbakova looks to cap mega season

Can another 17-year-old in Shcherbakova cap her mega season with another golden performance?

After recovering from Covid late last year, the teen skated to a third consecutive Russian national title, then won on debut at worlds, holding off compatriots Elizaveta Tuktamysheva (silver) and Alexandra Trusova (bronze) for the win.

She recently spoke to Olympic Channel exclusively in a Russian-language interview.

“I was worried about the performances at worlds for a long time: both during preparation and during the competition,” she said. “I feel pretty exhausted from all of this. And I want to be calmer about [World Team Trophy]; to enjoy it all.”

Shcherbakova said that won’t stop her from trying to bring her absolute best, and she’ll need it in a ladies’ field that features Tuktamysheva, as well as home Japanese hopes Kihira Rika and Sakamoto Kaori.

Kihira is looking to rebound after a disappointing seventh-place finish at worlds. Tuktamysheva, meanwhile, shed happy tears for her world silver medal in what was her first appearance at the event since her win at it in 2015.

Americans Karen Chen – who finished fourth in Stockholm – and Bradie Tennell (9th) are ones to watch, as well.

Japanese skaters look to impress home fans

World Team Trophy was first held in 2009, with each of its six previous iterations taking place in Japan. Team USA has won four of those and Japan two, with the U.S. as the reigning champions from 2019.

At time of publish, officials still planned to have a limited number of fans let into Maruzen Intec Arena under strict social distancing protocols, akin to Japanese nationals in December. Exact numbers are unclear.

Many skaters have voiced that they hope their performances can be a light in the darkness for fans as the world continues to face the Covid-19 pandemic.

“I hope I can be someone’s ray of hope,” said Hanyu in a recent Japanese interview.

Athletes, like at worlds, will compete within a strict bubble between the designated hotel and arena.

Mishina/Galliamov, Sinitsina/Katsalapov follow world titles

Like Shcherbakova, fellow FSR skaters Mishina/Galliamov and Sinitsina/Katsalapov will look to add more gold to their trophy cases.

In pairs, Mishina/Galliamov are the heavy favourites as the pairs and dance fields feature just one duo per nation. And – without China – two-time world champs Sui Wenjing and Han Cong won’t be in attendance.

Americans Alexa Knierim and Brandon Frazier will look to bounce back after a challenging worlds outing, while Italy’s Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise and Japan’s Miura Riku and Kihara Ryuichi are teams to watch.

Canada has opted to send none of its world championships team as the athletes did a two-week quarantine post-worlds.

In dance, Sinitsina/Katsalapov are also favoured, though Charlene Guignard and Marco Fabbri of Italy are a team to watch (6th at worlds), as are Americans Kaitlin Hawayek and Jean-Luc Baker (9th).

Format, team competition and how to watch

With 12 singles skaters in both the men’s and ladies’ as well as six teams in pairs and dance, points are awarded to the highest performers and scored on a descending scale (see below).

The team competition brings about a unique atmosphere that is rare in skating, though it’s been seen in several events, like the team event introduced at the Sochi 2014 Winter Games.

To tune in, fans in the U.S. can watch on NBCSN and Peacock. While a majority of ISU broadcaster partners will carry the event, the ISU will livestream it on its YouTube page in regions where it is not available.

In Japan, TV Asahi will broadcast domestically, while Channel 1 will carry the action in Russia. Most countries in Europe, including the U.K., will find the action on Eurosport.

MORE: See a full list of broadcasters here

World Team Trophy 2021, scoring format