Shoma Uno will be hoping to emerge from the shadow of Yuzuru Hanyu at the upcoming Pyeongchang Games and the fitness issues that have hampered Hanyu's title defense preparations look set to provide the diminutive 20-year-old with the perfect chance to win the gold medal on his Olympic debut.
Hanyu only recently resumed training on ice at his base in Toronto after suffering an ankle injury in November and the world champion is set to skip the team event in Pyeongchang in order to try and be ready for the men's singles starting on Feb. 16.
Whether or not Hanyu, known for his gutsy determination, is able to come through his latest injury setback remains to be seen, not that Uno is taking much notice of his rivals.
"Before beating anybody else I have to beat myself," Uno said.
He only narrowly lost to Hanyu to finish runner-up at last season's world championships in Helsinki and confidence is high after taking the silver medal behind China's Jin Boyang at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in Taipei last month.
Uno, who is the first skater to successfully land a quadruple flip in a competition approved by the International Skating Union, does not appear to be feeling any pressure heading to Pyeongchang and the Grand Prix Final silver medalist has described the Olympics as merely "a stop-off point during my skating career."
Although doubts remain as to whether Hanyu can make a serious charge towards becoming the first back-to-back Olympic champion in 66 years, he has shown amazing powers of recovery in the past.
He shrugged off a sickening collision with Chinese skater Yan Han during practice at the Cup of China in 2014 to win the silver medal and was back in action a few weeks later at the NHK Trophy.
Hanyu damaged ankle ligaments during practice for the NHK Trophy in November and his recovery has been slower than initially expected.
But in comments issued on Jan. 11, Hanyu said, "I am fighting with fierce determination every day in the build-up to the Pyeongchang Olympics."
Hanyu's rehab training program has been kept under tight wraps.
But Japan Skating Federation director Yoshiko Kobayashi has said getting back to training on the ice last month was a big step forward for the Sendai native.
"He is a focused athlete so I hope he starts gearing up for the Pyeongchang Olympics," Kobayashi said.
Nathan Chen of the United States and Spain's Javier Fernandez are also among the gold medal contenders in Pyeongchang. Keiji Tanaka is the other Japanese skater entered in the men's singles.
Although Japan no longer has a female skater with the caliber of retired star Mao Asada, four-time national champion and Skate America gold medalist Satoko Miyahara and Kaori Sakamoto could be medal contenders.
Sakamoto is competing in her first season on the senior circuit but is in strong form ahead of the Olympics.
The 17-year-old led Japan to a sweep of the podium at the Four Continents, with Miyahara placing third behind Mai Mihara, who did not make the team for Pyeongchang.
"Last March here in the junior worlds, I skated perfect short and free programs. It's a good venue for me, and I came in with that in mind," Sakamoto said after her win in Taipei.
"For the Olympics, I want to train in order to be perfect in both the short and free programs and deliver a performance I'm satisfied with."
Miyahara was disappointed with her performance and will be looking to regain confidence for the women's singles in Pyeongchang getting under way on Feb. 21.
"Since I came here (to Taipei), I've lacked confidence and that was the biggest cause of my mistakes," said Miyahara.
World champion Evgenia Medvedeva and Alina Zagitova, who will both be competing as Olympic Athletes for Russia, are among the names to watch in the women's singles along with Sochi Olympic bronze winner Carolina Kostner of Italy.
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