Hanyu, Medvedeva headline figure skating Cup of Russia

Nick REEVES
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Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu underlined his status as favourite to defend his 2014 Sochi crown in South Korea next year when claiming his second world title in Helsinki in April

Japanese figure skating golden boy Yuzuru Hanyu and two-time world champion Evgenia Medvedeva headline the Cup of Russia starting Friday, the first of the six-leg Grand Prix series in this Olympic season.

With Pyeongchang looming large on the horizon Olympic champion Hanyu and the rest of the ice rink stars will be out to lay down markers for the February 9-25 Winter Games.

Hanyu underlined his status as favourite to defend his 2014 Sochi crown in South Korea next year when claiming his second world title in Helsinki in April.

Medvedeva also returned from Finland with gold after defending her 2016 Boston title, and will be debuting a new routine in Moscow.

"It was a bit risky to change the free programme as the season has already started," she explained.

"But I was touched by the image of Anna Karenina and the music from the film of the same name.

"And I believe this programme will go very well with the Olympic season. I already tested it in the Japan Open and I think that my performance there proved that it has been the right decision."

Other stars on view in Russia this weekend are two-time world ice dance medallists Maia and Alex Shibutani, the American brother and sister act and Russia's European champions Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

Another home grown hope is Ksenia Stolbova, who won team gold in Sochi and a silver in the pairs with Fedor Klimov.

"We started to practice in full strength just a month ago after Fedor recovered completely from an injury," the 25-year-old from Saint Petersburg said.

"Of course we're not ready yet to perform at our top but we work hard day by day and hope to gain our top form for the Olympics."

After Russia the Grand Prix series moves on to Skate Canada at the end of the month, then China, Japan, France and Skate America at Lake Placid in November.

Skaters compete in two assignments each with the top six in each discipline qualifying for the ISU Grand Prix Final from December 7-10 in Nagoya, Japan.

That will be the last chance for skaters from Europe, Asia and North America to rub shoulders before Pyeongchang.

Moscow hosts the European championships in mid-January, with the season ending in Milan for the 2018 world championships in March.

The October 27-29 Skate Canada in Regina will feature Canada's three-time world champion Patrick Chan, silver medallist at Sochi, and Japan's world silver medallist Shoma Uno.

China's Helsinki gold medallists Sui Wenjing and Han Cong and France's two-time ice dance world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron are set to light up the third Grand Prix leg in Beijing.

Four Continents champion Mai Mihara of Japan and Spain's two-time world champion Javier Fernandez are also in the Beijing mix.