Figure skating: Hanyu takes command at worlds comeback

Figure skating: Hanyu takes command at worlds comeback

SHANGHAI - Olympic men's figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu closed in on his second successive men's world title Friday, taking the lead in the short programme in Shanghai after the French ice dancers clinched gold.

The Japanese pin-up over-rotated and put his hand on the ice as he opened with a quadruple toeloop, but effortlessly swept through his remaining jumps at the World Figure Skating Championships to record a season's best 95.20 points.

The 20-year-old finished ahead of European Champion Javier Fernandez of Spain, on 92.74, and Olympic bronze medallist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan on 85.89.

The gold medallist at last year's Sochi Winter Games was returning to the rink for the first time since comfortably defending his Grand Prix Final title in Barcelona in mid-December.

Hanyu underwent surgery for a bladder problem shortly after that victory, and was clearly enjoying returning to the rink at Shanghai's Oriental Sports Centre, where he was the star attraction for 15,000 spectators.

To the piano music of Chopin's 'Ballade No 1', the 20-year-old followed the mistake on the quadruple toeloop with a confident triple axel and triple Lutz-triple toeloop combination.

Hanyu will be heading into Saturday's final free skate confident that he can reclaim the world title he won on home soil in Japan last year.

The Shanghai tournament had earlier witnessed French ice dance skaters Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron clinch gold in their event with a rousing performance.

The pair finished with a career-best 112.34 points in the final free dance, to finish with 184.28 overall, marking the high point of a remarkable breakthrough season.

The current European title holder's victory in Shanghai represents an incredible achievement for 19-year-old Papadakis and Cizeron, aged 20, who are the youngest world champions for 49 years.

They finished 13th in the World Championships last year - their first season in senior competition. The pair emerged as a force in ice dance last December, coming third at the Grand Prix Final - figure skating's biggest tournament after the worlds.

"We are still very young, and we feel like we want to go so much further now, not for the medals but for ourselves," said Cizeron.

"I think that is what we have always done. We want to improve. We want to get better at what we do and what we love to do.

Papadakis and Cizeron finished fourth in Shanghai on Wednesday at the opening short programme but captivated the audience at Shanghai's Oriental Sports Centre with their finale.

To the music of Mozart's "Concerto No 23", Papadakis and Cizeron confidently swept through their programme, before bringing the crowd to their feet with a passionate choreographed spin.

Papadakis said the pair were "disappointed" with their performance on Wednesday, adding "it gave us a lot of strength - we wanted to fight!" "It is a big surprise to be here right now," she said following the win.

"Our goal at the beginning of the season was to be in the top ten." It was an emphatic display from the pair, who finished almost six points ahead of United States champions Madison Chock and Evan Bates, who took second place with a score of 106.87 and 181.34 overall.

Pre-tournament favourites Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje of Canada - who won at both the Grand Prix Final and Four Continents championships in Seoul last month - finished third with 106.74 points, and 179.42 overall.

"We gave everything that we could and that is our ultimate goal and what we trained for," Weaver said.

"Unfortunately the marks did not come out in our favour but we are not going to mark this season off as a loss. We had an incredible year.

"We have to be very happy with ourselves and are going to use this - as always - as a learning experience." Anna Capelliini and Luca Lanotte of Italy and Maia Shibutani and Alex Shibutani of the US were fourth and fifth respectively in both the free dance and the final standings.

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