Hanyu's absence opens up NHK Trophy field

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Vincent Zhou is hoping to take advantage of Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu's absence at this weekend's NHK Trophy in Japan (AFP/JAMIE SQUIRE)
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Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu's absence casts a long shadow over this week's NHK Trophy in Tokyo, with rivals Vincent Zhou and Shoma Uno looking to claim the spotlight.

Hanyu last week pulled out of the Grand Prix event -- his first of the season -- saying he had injured an ankle ligament in a fall.

The 26-year-old Japanese star is aiming to capture his third straight Olympic title in Beijing in less than three months' time, but he did not say when he would be back in action.

Hanyu suffered an injury to the same ankle just months before the 2018 Games in Pyeongchang, and said after winning the gold that he had never fully healed.

His absence from this week's NHK Trophy leaves the field wide open, with American Zhou looking to build on his victory at Skate America last month.

Zhou profited from a disastrous short programme by world champion Nathan Chen to snatch his first-ever Grand Prix title.

But Japan's Uno, who finished second behind Zhou in Las Vegas, feels he is returning to the form that won him the silver medal at the Pyeongchang Games.

"I wouldn't say I feel like a different person, but I've improved right across the board in terms of technique and mentality," said Uno.

"I don't want to just talk about how I want to improve or to back myself into a corner -- I want to confront myself."

The women's competition has also been hit by injuries, with Russia's Skate America champion Alexandra Trusova and Japan's Rika Kihira both being forced to pull out.

Russian 15-year-old Daria Usacheva -- who was second in her Grand Prix debut at Skate America -- is now expected to battle it out for the title with South Korea's You Young and Japan's Kaori Sakamoto.

"Grand Prix results count towards being picked for the Olympics, so I want to finish the season highest of all the Japanese skaters," said Sakamoto, who finished sixth at the Pyeongchang Games.

Russia's world pairs champions Anastasia Mishina and Aleksandr Galliamov will make their Grand Prix season debut, going head-to-head with compatriots Evgenia Tarasova and Vladimir Morozov.

World ice dance champions Victoria Sinitsina and Nikita Katsalapov will also start their Grand Prix season, with American couple Madison Chock and Evan Bates looking to upset them after finishing second at Skate America.

amk/sah/dh

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