Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen meet in 2019 Grand Prix Final clash

Russians dominate women's field with Olympic champion Alina Zagitova and quad-jumping prodigy Alexandra Trusova in action

The reigning figure skating Olympic and world champions go head-to-head for the first time this season when Yuzuru Hanyu and Nathan Chen meet at the Grand Prix Final in Turin.

As the halfway point between PyeongChang 2018 and Beijing 2022 approaches, the two skating heavyweights will be looking to establish dominance ahead of the World Championships in Montreal in March.

It also marks the first time they have competed directly against each other since 2019 Worlds in Saitama, Japan, earlier this year, when Chen emerged the winner and Hanyu took silver.

Double Olympic gold medallist Hanyu arrives at the Torino Palavela as the first-placed qualifier in the men’s field having won both of his Grand Prix events, Skate Canada and NHK Trophy, by a sizeable margin.

The Japanese skater will be looking to crown his 25th birthday on December 7th with victory in Italy.

Hanyu will have been happy to come through NHK in full health after suffering serious ankle injuries at his second Grands Prix events of the season in both 2017 and 2018.

Those injuries caused him to miss the last two Finals, having enjoyed a run of four straight victories prior to that from 2013-16.

For Hanyu, victory would hold added significance given the nature of his free skate. The program is a tribute to his idol Evgeni Plushenko, who won Olympic gold on the Palavela ice at Torino 2006.

Double world champion Chen won the last two editions and will be hoping to earn a third straight title to extend his current winning streak, with the 20-year-old undefeated since his fifth-place finish in PyeongChang.

The American also emphatically won both of his Grand Prix assignments - Skate America and Internationaux de France.

Both skaters included four quadruple jumps in their free skate on their last Grand Prix outing and could up their technical content further still for the first major medal event of season.

It remains to be seen if fans will get to witness the quadruple Axel, a jump Hanyu is training which has never been seen before in competition.

The Japanese skater holds the highest scores this season in the short program (109.60), free skate (212.99) and overall (322.59) - all posted at Skate Canada. Chen holds the world records in the free skate (216.02) and overall (323.42) from last season's Worlds, while Hanyu's short program world record (110.53) from Rostelecom Cup 2018 still stands.

Hanyu and Chen are clear favourites in a men’s field which also features double World Championship bronze medallist Jin Boyang of China.

The 22-year-old followed up a disappointing sixth-place showing at Skate America, his opening Grand Prix, with victory on home soil at the Cup of China to clinch the last qualifying spot.

Booking a place ahead of Boyang were Russian pair Alexander Samarin and Dmitri Aliev, European silver medallists in 2019 and 2018 respectively, and French skater Kevin Aymoz, a breakout star last season.

For all three European skaters, the Italian outing marks their Grand Prix Final debut.

Russian domination

Coach Eteri Tutberidze could be the busiest woman in Turin this week with four of her skaters, including reigning Olympic and world champion Alina Zagitova, in action in the senior ladies competition.

Zagitova was the fourth-placed qualifier behind her Russian rink-mates Alena Kostornaia, Alexandra Trusova and Anna Shcherbakova – all three of whom are making their senior debut this season.

Nicknamed in the media as the 3A, teenagers Kostornaia, Trusova and Shcherbakova have shaken up the Grand Prix circuit, each winning both of their assignments for a Russian clean sweep.

Up until as recently as last season, quadruple jumps were a rarity in the senior ladies field – but Trusova and Shcherbakova are pushing the boundaries where technical content is concerned.

Trusova, 15, has no less than four quadruple jumps planned in her free skate, while Shcherbakova, also 15, is expected to include two quad Lutzes.

Kostornaia, the top female qualifier, does not have quad jumps in her locker but boasts two triple Axels in her free skate, while the 16-year-old’s program components scores (PCS) are the highest of the three newcomers this season.

She owns the world-leading score in the short program (85.04), posted at NHK Trophy, while Trusova set records in the free skate and overall scores at Skate Canada (166.62 and 241.02).

Rika Kihira, Japan’s sole female qualifier and last year’s winner, also brings her trademark triple Axel and could debut a quad Salchow in the free skate to keep her in contention with the Russian newcomers.

PyeongChang 2018 champion Zagitova is not known to jump quads or the triple Axel, which could put her at a disadvantage in Turin. However, the 17-year-old has the highest PCS this season of the six qualifiers.

Completing the ladies event is USA skater Bradie Tennell, making her Grand Prix Final debut as the first American representative in the women’s singles since 2015, when Gracie Gold and Ashley Wagner competed. She is the oldest competitor in the field at 21.

Back with a bang

Chinese duo and Olympic silver medallists at PyeongChang 2018, Sui Wenjing and Han Cong, have certainly been making up for lost time in the pairs competition following an injury-hit season last year.

After missing the last Grand Prix season due to Sui suffering a foot injury, the pair came back to win Four Continents and a second world title.

They’ve carried that momentum into the new season with emphatic victories at both of their Grands Prix events – Cup of China and NHK Trophy – to qualify in first place.

Youngsters Aleksandra Boikova and Dmitriy Kozlovskiy are one of three Russian pairs in the Final and the main challengers to Sui and Cong, having also won both of their Grands Prix events - Skate Canada and Rostelecom Cup.

Rounding out the Russian contingent are Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov and Daria Pavliuchenko and Denis Khodykin.

Last year’s silver medallists Peng Cheng and Jin Yang, also from China, and Canada’s Kirsten Moore-Towers and Michael Marinaro complete the field. Last year's champions, France's Vanessa James and Morgan Cipres, are sitting out the Grand Prix series this season.

Forging ahead

Dominant French duo Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France have continued to forge ahead in the ice dance competition this season, setting new world record scores across the board on their way to winning both of their Grand Prix assignments.

The world champions didn’t compete at the Grand Prix Final last season after missing one of their assignments with injury but were victors the year before, beating Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir into second – positions that would be reversed a few months later in PyeongChang.

Papadakis and Cizeron are clear favourites for a second career Grand Prix Final title in Turin, while defending champions Madison Hubbell and Zach Donohue of the United States are fourth-placed qualifiers.

Two Russian duos – Viktoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov and Alexandra Stepanova and Ivan Bukin – also challenge, while Canadians Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier return to the Final for the first time since 2014 after their strongest ever start to a season.

Another American team and rink-mates of Hubbell and Donohue, Madison Chock and Evan Bates, round out the group.

Junior talent

It’s not just in the senior competition where Russian ladies threaten to steal the show.

First-place junior qualifier Kamila Valieva, also trained by Tutberidze, is just 13 years old but has enjoyed a solid season so far and brings a quad toeloop with her to Turin.

Expected to challenge the Russian for the title is reigning US champion Alysa Liu, 14, who became the first American woman to jump a quad Lutz earlier this season and also has a triple Axel in her repertoire.

In the junior men’s competition, Yuma Kagiyama of Japan is one to watch after recently winning the Junior National title by a 37-point margin.

Kagiyama has figure skating in his blood as the son of two-time Olympian Masakazu Kagiyama.

Andrei Mozalev of Russia tops the standings as he is the only skater who won gold medals in both of his assignments.

Tutberidze-trained Daniil Samsonov, also of Russia, currently holds the junior world-leading scores across the board, while Daniel Grassl – the sole Italian in both junior and senior competition – will be hoping for success on home soil.

In the ice dance, Avonley Nguyen and Vadym Kolesnik of the United States were fifth in last season’s final but qualify in first place this year ahead of Russians Elizaveta Shanaeva and Devid Naryzhnyy.

Russia dominate the junior pairs competition with five of the six duos heralding from there, spearheaded by top qualifiers Apollinariia Panfilova and Dmitry Rylov, who have previously won bronze and silver and will be looking to make it the top spot this time around.

Grand Prix Final of Figure Skating Schedule

(All times are local)

Thursday December 5th 

15.30 - 16.15

JUNIOR MEN – SHORT PROGRAM

16.35 - 17.28

JUNIOR PAIRS – SHORT PROGRAM

17.50 - 18.35

JUNIOR LADIES – SHORT PROGRAM

19.00 – 19.30

SENIOR PAIRS – SHORT PROGRAM

21.10 - 21.56

SENIOR MEN – SHORT PROGRAM

Friday December 6th 

15.00 - 15.53

JUNIOR ICE DANCE – RHYTHM DANCE

16.20 - 17.11

JUNIOR LADIES – FREE SKATING

18.30 - 19.23

SENIOR ICE DANCE – RHYTHM DANCE

19.50 - 20.36

SENIOR LADIES – SHORT PROGRAM

20.55 - 21.57

SENIOR PAIRS – FREE SKATING

Saturday December 7th  

13.00 - 13.54

SENIOR MEN – FREE SKATING

14.20 - 15.19

JUNIOR PAIRS – FREE SKATING

15.46 - 16.36

JUNIOR MEN – FREE SKATING

18.00 - 18.57

JUNIOR ICE DANCE – FREE DANCE

19.25 - 20.25

SENIOR ICE DANCE – FREE DANCE

20.55 - 21.49

SENIOR LADIES – FREE SKATING

Olympic Channel will be on the ground in Turin bringing you a daily live blog, news, reaction and content from behind the scenes. Follow @OlympicChannel on social media.

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