In 2018, Yuzuru Hanyu won his second consecutive Olympic gold medal, tying the record set by Dick Button of the U.S. in 1948 and 1952. Hanyu, who had withdrawn from his fall 2021 Grand Prix events because of an ankle injury, qualified for his third Olympics by winning his sixth Japanese national title in December against competition that included Shoma Uno, the reigning Olympic silver medalist, and Yuma Kagiyama, the reigning world silver medalist. They will be Hanyu’s teammates in Beijing as he tries to tie an even older record: the three consecutive Olympic golds won in 1920, 1924, and 1928 by Sweden’s Gillis Grafström.
Kamila Valieva and Anna Shcherbakova, Russia
Russians dominate the women’s field–but their success in Beijing may depend on their resistance to COVID. Several athletes at Russia’s Olympic training camp have tested positive, including figure skater Mikhail Kolyada, who has withdrawn from the competition. According to The Wall Street Journal, the Russian Figure Skating Federation has maintained that minors don’t need to be vaccinated (even though a vaccine has been approved for 12- to 17-year-olds), and that 15-year-old Valieva, the reigning Russian and European champion, and her 17-year-old teammates, Shcherbakova and Alexandra Trusova, are exempt. These teenagers have been trading titles and placements, but Valieva has broken away from the pack as the first woman to earn more than 270 points in the free skate and the first to earn more than 90 points in the short program. (She achieved that score Europeans on January 15.) If Valieva falls short in Beijing, Shcherbakova (the reigning world champion) and Trusova will be ready to seize their chances; if COVID gets them first, the women of the Japanese team, with its stringent health protocols, will be waiting.