SAITAMA, Japan (AFP) - The pressure is on Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu as he bids to claim the world title in front of his home crowd at the world figure skating championships at Saitama starting on Wednesday.
The 19-year-old is the only Olympic title-holder from Sochi to compete at the world championships over four days near Tokyo.
Hanyu beat three-time world champion Patrick Chan of Canada at the Sochi Games last month to become the first Olympic men's title-holder from Asia.
Chan and bronze medallist Denis Ten of Kazakhstan are skipping the worlds along with controversial Olympic women's champion Adelina Sotnikova of Russia and South Korean runner-up Kim Yu Na, who has retired.
Such no-shows are not uncommon at world championships following an Olympic Games when top stars peaked for the biggest stage of all.
Hanyu's appearance at his home worlds provides a boost to Japanese organisers and the teenager from the tsunami-hit city of Sendai is personally motivated.
He achieved a world best in the short programme but fell twice in the free skate on his Olympic debut, and regrets he could not perform at 100 per cent in Sochi.
"There is tremendous pressure on me after I won the big title," Hanyu told reporters on Monday after training at the Saitama Super Arena.
"It will be a challenge for me to perform well while battling the pressure," he said.
"I will aim first of all to give it everything I have."
Hanyu is the first man since Russian Alexei Yagudin in 2002 to compete for a world title after winning the Olympic gold in the same season.
Yagudin won both Olympic and world titles as well as the Grand Prix Final gold in the 2001-2002 season.
Hanyu, the 2012 world bronze medallist, could become the second to pull a hat-trick of global honours as he also beat Chan at the Grand Prix Final this season.
But he could face stiff competition from Spain's Javier Fernandez, his training partner under Canadian coach Brian Orser in Toronto. The 22-year-old, a two-time European champion and third at last year's worlds, finished fourth in Sochi.
Canadian Kevin Reynolds, the 2013 Four Continents champion, is expected to challenge with his powerful quadruple jumps. Japan's Tatsuki Machida, who won the US and Russian Grand Prix titles and was fifth in Sochi, also needs to be watched.
In the women's event, 15-year-old European champion Julia Lipnitskaia of Russia will be looking to win the women's title in the absence of compatriot Sotnikova.
Lipnitskaia, dazzling with triple-triple combinations and difficult spins, contributed to Russia's gold medal in the inaugural Olympic team competition in Sochi.
But she cracked under pressure to finish fifth in the individual competition.
Sotnikova, 17, won gold amid claims she was over-marked as she denied Kim a second straight Olympic title.
Sochi bronze medallist Carolina Kostner of Italy is bidding for a second world title after 2012 with Japanese superstar Mao Asada targeting a third crown.
Asada, the 2010 Olympic silver medallist, is priming herself for what could be her last competition. She finished sixth in Sochi after battling back brilliantly from 16th in the short programme.
United States national champion Gracie Gold, fourth in Sochi, and her team-mate Ashley Wagner are also considered medal contenders.
In the absence of Olympic champions Tatiana Volosozhar and Maxim Trankov of Russia, Germany's Aliona Savchenko and Robin Szolkowy are targeting a fifth world pairs title. The Germans finished third in Sochi, with Olympic silver medallists Ksenia Stolbova and Fedor Klimov of Russia their biggest rivals.
Olympic bronze medallists Elena Ilinykh and Nikita Katsalapov of Russia top the ice dance field, ahead of France's Nathalie Pechalat and Fabian Bourzat, last year's world bronze medallists.
Olympic and world champions Meryl Davis and Charlie White of the US and Canadian runners-up Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir are not competing.