ISU Grand Prix Hanyu, Medvedeva defend final titles in Marseille

A fourth title for Hanyu would see him equal the record set by Yevgeny Plushenko between 1999 and 2004.

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Spain's Javier Fernandez performs during the closing ceremony of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Paris on November 13, 2016 play

Spain's Javier Fernandez performs during the closing ceremony of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Paris on November 13, 2016

(AFP/File)
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Spain's Javier Fernandez will be looking to end Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu's three-year reign as ISU Grand Prix final champion starting Thursday with Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva defending her women's figure skating crown in Marseille.

There were tears as Fernandez finished runner-up in front of his adoring fans in the previous two editions in Barcelona as training partner Hanyu, 21, surged to an unprecedented third straight title last year.

Fernandez bounced back to claim back-to-back world titles last March ahead of Hanyu, but with the 2018 Winter Olympics looming the Spaniard wants to nail one of the two titles to have eluded him.

"The gold medal at the Grand Prix final is something I'm missing ... and the Olympic of course. It's something I'm going to fight for," said Fernandez, the first skater from Spain to medal at an ISU event.

The 25-year-old insists he will be able to deal with the pressure this time in southern France despite the many fans set to travel over the border from Spain.

"It's going to be pretty intense. It's not my home but I'm going to have a lot of support," said Fernandez, who trains in Canada with Olympic champion Hanyu.

"I liked competing in Barcelona but didn't know how to manage it all but hopefully I'll be able to this year."

The elite six-skater field also includes former three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada -- a two-time Grand Prix final winner -- Japan's Shoma Uno and Americans Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon, looking to put the US back on the men's podium for the first time since 2009.

Fernandez booked his ticket to Marseille by winning the Cup of Russia and the Trophee de France in Paris, while Chan, 25, took gold at Skate Canada and the Cup of China.

But despite finishing second in Canada, Hanyu has the best overall score this season with 301.47 points achieved on his way to victory in the NHK Trophy in Japan.

A fourth title would see him equal the record set by Russian Yevgeny Plushenko between 1999 and 2004.

'Mini Russians'

In the women's competition Medvedeva faces a stiff challenge from a bevy of teenage countrywomen with four of the six-woman field from Russia.

The 17-year-old Medvedeva claimed a surprise victory last year, going on to capture the world title in a stellar senior debut season.

Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva performs during the Ladies Free program at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Paris on November 12, 2016 play

Russia's Evgenia Medvedeva performs during the Ladies Free program at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Paris on November 12, 2016

(AFP/File)

Coming off wins in Canada and France she is joined by Elena Radionova, last year's bronze medallist, Anna Pogorilaya, and Maria Sotskova. Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond and Satoko Miyahara, last year's silver medallist, are also in the mix.

"It'll be a kind of the national championships in miniature," said 18-year-old Pogorilaya, the world bronze medallist and winner of the Grand Prix legs in Moscow and Japan.

In pairs, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford look to recapture the title they lost last year, as fellow Canadians Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir eye the only title missing from their collection in ice dancing.

Virtue and Moir, the 2010 Olympic champions, have come back strong after two seasons off, winning gold at Skate Canada and the NHK Trophy where they posted a new record score.

World champion ice dancers Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron will be carrying French hopes.

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