Gangneung: Japan's "Ice Prince" Yuzuru Hanyu must recover from serious injury and see off the challenge of American quad sensation Nathan Chen if he is to claim the first back-to-back Olympic men's figure skating titles in nearly 70 years.
The floppy-haired superstar alarmed his legion of fans when he damaged ankle ligaments in November and has since been training behind closed doors.
All of Japan are willing on Hanyu, who is aiming to become the first man to secure back-to-back titles since American Dick Button in 1952.
The 23-year-old from Sendai is the polished product, combining innate technical ability with emotionally intelligent performances.
But the right ankle injury he suffered in November has seen his standing as the favourite for a repeat gold slip.
He misses the team event, which kicks off action at the Gangneung Ice Arena on Friday, after completing his preparations at a secret location.
"He will be 100 percent," promised coach Brian Orser, who also has two-time ex-world champion Javier Fernandez under his wing.
Fernandez, the veteran Spaniard, narrowly missed out on a first podium in Sochi and arrives at his swansong Games in form after claiming a sixth consecutive European title in Moscow.
Chen, too, is flying. The Salt Lake City-born son of Chinese immigrants has emerged as a serious contender to Hanyu's crown with his high-risk, quad-heavy routine.
From October to December Chen won three Grand Prix competitions, defeating Hanyu along the way, before an emphatic triumph in the US championships last month.
"Eighteen years we've been looking at the rings and now we're here. It's really cool to have that happen," said the excited 18-year-old on Wednesday.
Chen is the first skater in the history of the sport to line up five quads in a four-and-a-half-minute free dance routine.
Others with claims to Hanyu's crown include his compatriot and world championship runner-up Shoma Uno, Canada's Patrick Chan and China's Jin Boyang.
The women's competition will be dominated by the tussle between Alina Zagitova and her fellow Russian teen Evgenia Medvedeva who, like Hanyu, saw her build-up marred by injury.
The two-time world champion returned after a two-month layoff at the European Championships in mid-January but was edged out by her 15-year-old training partner Zagitova, who has enjoyed a sensational first season on the senior circuit.
Both are competing under a neutral flag as "Olympic athletes from Russia" (OAR) as their country serves a ban for state-sponsored doping.
"At the Olympics, we will be competing under the white flag, but we are still 'Athletes from Russia'. In our souls, we know," commented Zagitova.
Others in contention are Italy's Caroline Kostner, who picked up bronze four years ago, and Canadians Kaetlyn Osmond and Gabrielle Daleman.
Two more Canadians, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, are out to follow up their 2010 ice dance gold after silver in Sochi.
But they will have their work cut out to stop French world record breakers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron hitting the jackpot on their Winter Games debut.
In the pairs, China's world champions Sui Wenjing and Han Cong will be keeping a close eye on Aljona Shevchenko and Bruno Massot, the Germans who are out for revenge after silver at the worlds.
Much attention will focus on Ryom Tae-Ok and Kim Ju-Sik from North Korea, which is taking part in its first Olympics in the South after boycotting the Seoul 1988 Summer Games.
Medvedeva meanwhile warms up for her singles bid in the team event, where she will be helping to defend the crown for Russia, — even if they are competing as OAR — joined by European bronze medallist Mikhail Kolyada.
Canada, led by Chan, are favoured to go one better after Sochi silver, although Chen's USA and the Japan side led by Uno won't go down without a fight.
Published Date: Feb 09, 2018 12:06 PM | Updated Date: Feb 09, 2018 12:06 PM