Hanyu targets Helsinki gold before Olympic defense

Emmeline MOORE
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22-year-old Japanese Yuzuru Hanyu set world records for the short, free programme and overall score in 2015

Yuzuru Hanyu insists conditions are perfect for him to recapture the men's figure skating world gold from two-time reigning champion Javier Fernandez as the Japanese star prepares his Olympic title defense.

Despite a world-record-scoring season last year, Hanyu -- the 2014 world champion -- has had to settle for silver the past two years behind Spanish training partner Fernandez.

The pair are coached by Canadian former world champion skater Brian Orser in Toronto.

The battle for the men's crown looks set to be a quadruple-jumping free-for-all between Fernandez, former winners Hanyu and Patrick Chan, and a string of young wunderkind looking to shine before the 2018 Pyeongchang Games.

"I've done everything I need to do to this point and I have to make sure I get the job done here. Condition-wise I feel perfect," said Hanyu, with the men's competition getting underway on Thursday in Helsinki's Hartwall Arena.

The 22-year-old Hanyu -- who set world records for the short, free programme and overall score in 2015 -- has had a mixed pre-Olympic season, winning the Grand Prix final and the NHK Trophy but finishing behind Chan in Skate Canada and American Nathan Chen in the Four Continents.

The 17-year-old Chen, who landed a record five quadruple jumps in one programme on his way to the US national title in January, is also among the challengers along with Japan's Shoma Uno and China's Jin Boyang.

Fernandez, 26, captured a fifth consecutive European title but has had a mixed season finishing fourth in the Grand Prix final.

The Spaniard is bidding for a third straight world title -- last achieved by Chan, 26, between 2011-2013.

- 'Cascade of triple-triples' -

As the four-rotation quadruple jump is the pinnacle of the men's event, Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva was promising a "cascade of triple-triples" to defend her women's title.

"I've set two new records at the European championships and it has boosted my self-confidence ahead of the world championships," said Medvedeva, born in 1999, the year that Maria Butyrskaya became the first Russian woman to capture the world title in Helsinki.

"For the moment a cascade of four triple jumps is my maximum, but I'm set to add another triple in the near future. I'm very interested to try the new combination."

The battle looks set for the silver and bronze with American Ashley Wagner, 26, and Russia's Anna Pogorilaya, 18, filling those spots last year in Boston.

Veteran Italian Carolina Kostner -- the 2012 world champion and 2014 Olympic bronze medallist, back after two years off -- prevented a Russian sweep with her bronze at the Europeans.

Four Continents winner Mai Mihara will be carrying Japanese hopes, with Satoko Miyahara out injured, of keeping their three spots for the 2018 Olympics.

"I want to claim an Olympic spot but it could affect my performance if I dwell on that too much," said Mihara.

"The first job is to knuckle down and have a great skate with no mistakes."

- Canadian gold rush -

Canada are looking for a double gold in pairs and ice dancing.

Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford can win a third straight pairs title, a feat last achieved when Soviet skaters Irina Rodnina and Alexander Zaitsev won six between 1973 and 1978.

But China's Sui Wenjing and Han Cong beat the Canadians at the Four Continents and Russia's Evgenia Tarasova and Vadimir Morozov won the Grand Prix final.

In ice dancing, 2010 Olympic champions Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir have been unbeatable on their comeback season.

The world champions in 2010 and 2012 set record short dance and total scores on their way to capturing the Grand Prix Final, the only title previously missing from their collection.

Reigning two-time world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron of France have struggled for consistency this season, finishing behind Virtue and Moir at the NHK Trophy and Grand Prix Final.

The competition gets underway on Wednesday with the women's and pairs short programmes.