NAGANO, Japan - Two-time Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu made a commanding return to the ice Friday at Japan's national figure skating championships, topping the men's short program with the debut performance of his new routine.
Hanyu earned 103.53 points, besting NHK Trophy winner Yuma Kagiyama by 4.93 points as they head into the free skate at Nagano's Big Hat arena. The defending champion, 2018 Olympic silver medalist Shoma Uno, is currently third, 4.38 points behind Kagiyama.
Rika Kihira leads the women's field after the 18-year-old reigning champion scored 79.34 points in their short program. The NHK Trophy winner, Kaori Sakamoto, placed second with 71.86, and Mai Mihara is in third with 69.55.
In a dynamic performance set to Robbie Williams' "Let Me Entertain You," Hanyu landed all of his jumps, starting with a quadruple salchow, followed by a quad toe loop-triple toe loop combination and triple axel.
"I was trying to make every single part of it a highlight," said Hanyu. "I could enjoy it, but I can't say the performance was good in terms of the score, frankly speaking. I'll make the necessary adjustment and keep going."
The 26-year-old, who finished runner-up to Uno at last year's nationals, gave the first public glimpse of the routine in official practice earlier in the day.
His Canadian choreographer Jeffrey Buttle worked on the steps, but it was one that was almost entirely produced by the skater, who broke into a smile at the end of an energetic display.
"I believe fans are taking time to watch me skate even when they are going through tough times. I hope my performance provides them something cheerful to talk about," Hanyu said. "I'll aim for another tidy performance tomorrow (in the free skate)."
The 17-year-old Kagiyama, who won last month's NHK Trophy in his senior Grand Prix debut, scored 98.60 following a mistake-free routine including a quad salchow-double toe loop combination.
"Making a single jumping mistake means the end in the short program. I focused naturally once the music went off and enjoyed skating," Kagiyama said.
Uno, 23, stumbled in his bid for a fifth straight national title, falling on his second jump, a quad toe loop, en route to a score of 94.22.
Hanyu is returning to competition at the championships after skipping this year's ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating due to concerns his asthma might put him at greater risk should he become infected with the coronavirus.
Kihira nailed her opening triple axel before slightly losing her balance landing her next triple flip-triple toe loop combination. But a mostly flawless performance, which featured an audacious one-handed cartwheel and drew huge applause from the crowd, left her with a sizable lead.
"At any rate, I've landed them (all the jumps). That's what I'm most relieved about," Kihira said. "I was awarded a decent score, so I'm satisfied. Hopefully, I will be able to make my steps more of a high point in the short program."