Japan’s “Ice Prince” Yuzuru Hanyu must recover from serious injury and see off the challenge of American quad sensation Nathan Chen if he is to claim the first back-to-back Olympic men’s figure skating titles in nearly 70 years.
The floppy-haired superstar alarmed his legion of fans when he damaged ankle ligaments in November, and has since been training behind closed doors.
All of Japan are willing on Hanyu, who is aiming to become the first man to secure back-to-back titles since American Dick Button in 1952.
The 23-year-old from Sendai is the polished product, combining innate technical ability with emotionally intelligent performances.
But the right ankle injury he suffered in November has seen his standing as favourite for a repeat gold slip.
He missed the team event, which kicked off action at the Gangneung Ice Arena today, after completing his preparations at a secret location.
“He will be 100 per cent,” promised coach Brian Orser, who also has two time ex-world champion Javier Fernandez under his wing.
Fernandez, the veteran Spaniard, narrowly missed out on a first podium in Sochi and arrives at his swansong Games in form after claiming a sixth consecutive European title in Moscow.
Chen, too, is flying. The Salt Lake City-born son of Chinese immigrants has emerged as a serious contender to Hanyu’s crown with his high-risk, quad-heavy routine.
From October to December Chen won three Grand Prix competitions, defeating Hanyu along the way, before an emphatic triumph in the US championships last month.
“Eighteen years we’ve been looking at the rings and now we’re here. It’s really cool to have that happen,” said the excited 18-year-old on Wednesday.
Chen is the first skater in the history of the sport to line up five quads in a four-and-a-half-minute free dance routine.
Others with claims to Hanyu’s crown include his compatriot and world championship runner-up Shoma Uno, Canada’s Patrick Chan and China’s Jin Boyang.