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Figure skating star Hanyu to miss nationals, likely to qualify for world championships

Yuzuru Hanyu walks on crutches during the awards ceremony of the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. (Kyodo)

TOKYO -- Two-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu will miss the national championships in Osaka in late December due to an ankle injury, the Japan Skating Federation (JSF) announced on Dec. 13.

It will be the third time in a row for the 24-year-old to miss the nationals. He could not attend in 2017 because of a similar injury, and in 2016 due to the flu. This year, Hanyu injured his right ankle after falling on a quadruple loop during a Nov. 17 practice at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, the fifth event in the Grand Prix tour.

Hanyu also withdrew from this month's Grand Prix Final in Vancouver after being told that his ankle needed three weeks of rest and about a month of rehabilitation. The gold medalist was diagnosed with three types of injuries in his ligaments and peroneal tendon.

In this Nov. 18, 2018 photo, Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu smiles with his gold medal at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow after winning the men's competition despite an ankle injury. (Kyodo)

"I owe a deep debt of gratitude to people who were concerned (about my injury)," commented Hanyu. He expressed disappointment over being unable to participate in the national championships despite his efforts, adding, "I will try hard to return to competition as soon as possible."

The nationals are also a qualifier event for the 2019 World Figure Skating Championships to be held in Saitama Prefecture, north of Tokyo, in March. There are three berths for Japanese skaters, one of which goes to the winner of the nationals. The other two are often filled by skaters who come in second or third place in the nationals, or those with good results in the Grand Prix Final.

However, the JSF's selection criteria include a special measure for athletes that have finished in the top three of past world championships but failed to attend the national championships for injuries or other reasons.

Although Hanyu meets these requirements, allowing him to skate in the world championships may draw criticism, including that it would undermine the value of domestic competitions. However, it is very likely that the 24-year-old will be chosen, since he is ranked second among Japanese skaters in the world standings, right behind Shoma Uno, who is at the top of the list. Furthermore, there are no other Japanese skaters who could threaten the pair's positions.

Hanyu qualified for the 2017 world championship and the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics thanks to the special measure, and won the gold medal at both. This season's world championships will be held on Hanyu's home turf. Now, all eyes are on how his recovery from his ankle injury progresses.

(Japanese original by Chisa Fukuda, Sports News Department)

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