Hanyu wants to give figure-skating 'hope' to virus-hit Osaka

Tokyo (AFP) –


Japan's two-time Olympic gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu is hoping to inspire coronavirus-hit Osaka when he competes at skating's World Team Trophy this week, as the host city struggles with rising infections.

Hanyu will lead the Japan team in the biennial season-ending event, where he will again lock horns with American Nathan Chen, who beat him to the world title in Stockholm last month.

But the competition will take place against a backdrop of rising infections in Osaka, where the Olympic torch relay has been banned from public roads amid fears of a wider outbreak.

Hanyu skipped this season's Grand Prix series over concerns that his asthma would put him at higher risk if he caught Covid-19.

He admitted to feeling "conflicted" about returning to competition in December, but he struck a more positive note on Wednesday as he pledged to give fans something to cheer.

"I stand here fully realising that Osaka is in an extremely difficult situation," he said during an online press conference.

"What I can do is deliver my performance. If it brings hope or moves someone even for a second or even a fraction of a second... I have to give the kind of performance that will stay in people's hearts."

Six teams will take part in the three-day competition, with Japan and the US joined by skaters from Russia, Canada, Italy and France -- the latter a substitute for China, which dropped out of the event.

The teams will compete across men's, women's, pairs and ice dance disciplines, with Hanyu's battle with Chen just one of several intriguing plotlines less than 10 months ahead of the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

Russian 17-year-old Anna Shcherbakova will also come into the competition with a world championship under her belt, as will her teammates in the ice dance and pairs disciplines.

But it is Hanyu's rivalry with Chen that is likely to take centre stage, after the American beat the Olympic champion into third place in Sweden behind Japanese compatriot Yuma Kagiyama.

"My legs felt a bit wobbly, but I think I was able to make adjustments," Hanyu said after practice on Thursday.

"I will do my best to contribute to my team. I think my short programme is enjoyable," he said.