'Ice Prince' Hanyu vs Quad King in Olympics figure skating clash
A hotly anticipated clash between Nathan Chen of the United States and Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu in the men's Olympic figure skating begins on Tuesday in Beijing, with both laser-focused on grasping gold.
For Chen, it's the only major prize that has eluded him, while 27-year-old Hanyu is after a third consecutive gold and an undisputed position as one of skating's all-time greats.
Highly decorated skaters known for pushing the discipline to new limits, both are equipped with a devastating arsenal of physics-defying jumps matched with a gift for expressive performance.
Chen has already fired a warning shot in Beijing.
His score in Friday's short programme in the team event was just 0.11 points off the world record -- which is held by Hanyu.
The defending champion meanwhile only landed in Beijing on Sunday and will not get to try out the competition rink before the day of the event.
But it is not out of character for the enigmatic "Ice Prince", who also missed the beginning of the 2018 Pyeongchang Games at which he triumphed.
Despite a fanatical legion of fans at home and abroad, Hanyu remains something of a mystery, absent from social media and rarely granting interviews.
His coach Brian Orser though told the Olympic news site that his supporters keep him going.
"He likes to show his fans that he's the best," Orser said.
Should Hanyu prove that to be true at these Games, he will join 1920s star Gillis Grafstrom of Sweden as the only other man to win three Olympic singles figure skating titles.
- Quad revolutions -
Chen is known as the "Quad King" because he was the first skater to hit five different "quad jumps" -- where the athlete rotates four times in the air -- in competition.
The number and variety of jumps Chen works into his routines brings a dynamic few rivals can match when executed with his typical near-flawless precision.
But that deserted him at the last Olympics, when a disastrous short programme saw him ranked 17th, before an unprecedented six quad jumps in his free skate hoisted him to fifth to avoid humiliation.
The 22-year-old comes into these Games having won the world championship three times since then, and has been keen to write off Pyeongchang as "a learning experience".
But Hanyu is planning to up the stakes.
He has pledged to perform a quadruple axel -- a jump involving 4.5 rotations that no skater has ever landed in competition.
"Of course, I could forget about the quad and use other ways to try to win the gold, but the main reason I chose to compete in Beijing is because I want to land the quad," he said in December.
Asked about his rival's plans on Friday, Chen said he was "honoured to be alive at the same time as him".
"It's pretty crazy what he's doing... It's been a really great adventure and journey for me to have someone like him to share the ice with."
The increasing complexity of these feats has changed the face of men's figure skating.
"I remember the time when one quad was enough to win (world championships)," the Czech Republic's Michal Brezina said after training last week.
"Now... you need at least four," said the 31-year-old. "It's amazing to see how much the sport has evolved."
- Outside chances? -
Hanyu and Chen are the undisputed favourites, but they may well be checking over their shoulders on several of their compatriots who could cause an upset.
Japan's Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno gave excellent skates in the team event, with both hitting personal bests in their respective events.
And although Vincent Zhou of the US made a disappointing showing in the free skate, he was adamant on Sunday that it was just a matter of "fine-tuning".
Both Zhou and Uno beat Chen last October at Skate America, though Chen responded with victories at Skate Canada and the US championships.