Yuzuru Hanyu opens season at Autumn Classic

The double Olympic champion from Japan competes for the first time since PyeongChang 2018.

Forty-four skaters have entered the men’s and ladies’ competitions this weekend at the Autumn Classic. But the eyes of the figure skating world will be clearly focused on two: Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan and Russia’s Evgenia Medvedeva, who took silver in PyeongChang.

The event, held just outside of Toronto, gives skaters – and fans – a preview of the 2018–19 figure skating season.

The Grand Prix circuit begins in just one month at Skate America in Everett, Washington, from 19–21 October.

The Olympic Channel is on-site at the Autumn Classic, bringing fans a closer look at the competition online and on social media.

Check out Hanyu running through his new free program, titled 'Origin', during Autumn Classic practice.

'Back to origins'

Just seven months removed from winning this second-straight Olympic gold medal, Hanyu returns to competition.

The 23-year-old, who has two World titles to match his Olympic golds, revealed earlier this year that he will skate his short program to ‘Otonal’ by Raul di Blasio. His free program is set to Edvin Marton’s ‘Art on Ice’ and ‘Magic Stradivarius’.

The selections honour two of Hanyu’s skating idols: American Johnny Weir and Russian Evgeni Plushenko.

“I have been released from the pressure that I have to produce results,” he told Japanese press last month at the Toronto Cricket Club where he trains. “I think, and feel, that I can skate for myself from now on. I want to go back to my skating origins.”

He’s named his free program ‘Origin’.

Yuzuru Hanyu with Brian Orser

To quad or not to quad

At the same press event where Hanyu revealed his 2018–19 season programs and outlook, he also teased the possibility of performing a quadruple Axel. No figure skater has ever landed the jump in competition.

“As of now I am still unable to jump it, but I’d like to practice hard and enjoy the process,” Hanyu said.

But fans are unlikely to see the quad Axel this week in Toronto. Coach Brian Orser, who admits Hanyu is capable of the difficult jump, told reporters during the Olympic Games in PyeongChang that keeping the double gold medallist healthy was the first priority.

“Could he do it? Yes, if anybody could do it, it would be him. I just don’t want him to get hurt again,” said Orser.

Medvedeva in Canada

Orser, who in addition to Hanyu coached Korean star Yuna Kim to Olympic gold, also finds Russian world champion Evgenia Medvedeva seeking his tutelage.

After going undefeated for two years, Medvedeva was upset by compatriot Alina Zagitova first at the European Championships in January and then the Olympic Games a month later.

Now, Medvedeva is looking to Orser for work his magic.

"I hope that time will pass and everyone will understand that this was the only possible option,” Medvedeva said in a statement in May as she announced her surprising new coaching arrangement after 11 years with Eteri Tutberidze.

It'll be the first time she competes under Orser. She fell in her first public appearance, at the Russian national test skate, but said she had only skated at 20 per cent of her abilities.

American Jason Brown, who is scheduled to compete this weekend, also moved to Orser after missing out on the 2018 Games. After serving as U.S. alternate, Brown skipped the World Championships in March despite Adam Rippon’s withdrawal.

New Season, New Rules

With the 2018-2019 season underway, skating fans will need to keep a few rule changes in mind.

After Zagitova - and Medvedeva - famously back-loaded their Olympic programs, the new rules limit the number of jumping passes eligible for bonus to one in the short program and three in the free.

Previously, any jump performed in the second half of the program was eligible for a 10 percent bonus.

Another change to look out for is an expanded grade of execution range. Judges can now award up to +5 or penalise down to -5. Last season, the range was -3 to +3.

Looking ahead

Figure skating season kicks into full gear, starting with Skate America in October, with reigning world champion Nathan Chen of the U.S. scheduled to compete.

Hanyu has entered the Helsinki Grand Prix (Helsinki, Finland, 2–4 November) and the Rostelecom Cup (Moscow, Russia, 16–18 November), while Medvedeva will compete at Skate Canada (Laval, Canada, 26–28 October) and the Internationaux de France (Grenoble, France, 23–25 November).

The Grand Prix Final is scheduled for 6–9 December in Vancouver.