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I watched the first few episodes of Yuri On Ice! and my girlfriend who iceskates said that she thought that the character Yuri Plisetsky really reminded her of Yulia Lipnitskaya in that they shared similar features and backgrounds.

Are they connected? What about the other characters?

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Yes, most skaters in Yuri!!! on Ice are based on real-life counterparts.

There are some official sources regarding the model of Yuri!!! on Ice's characters. According to this article,

Yuri Plisetsky and Yulia Lipnitskaya

Sharing the same name as the show’s protagonist, fifteen-year-old Yuri is a extremely talented and at times foul-mouthed Russian skater. He is making his senior debut during the series and is by far one of the youngest skaters in the Grand Prix.

Yūri!!! on Ice's storyboarder Kubo stated in an interview published in the October issue of PASH that Yuri is modeled after Russian figure skater Yulia Lipnitskaya. Currently eighteen years old, Lipnitskaya is also a young powerhouse skater and the youngest skater to ever win a gold at the Olympics at fifteen years old.

Victor Nikiforov and Evgeni Plushenko and John Cameron Mitchell

Victor, winner of five consecutive World Championships, Grand Prix, and many other competitions, is the rockstar-esque and legendary retired Russian figure skater who decided to coach Yūri. With that record, isn’t difficult to find discern Victor's potential real life counterpart.

Plushenko, four-time Olympic medalist, three-time World Champion, and four-time Grand Prix Final champion, is a legend with an attitude in his own right. Notable as well is how Victor rests his forefinger like he is signaling "hush" that appears to be a nod to Plushenko hush of the crowd in Sochi 2014 Olympics. However, Victor as Plushenko could be up for debate. According to a tweet from Victor's voice actor Junichi Suwabe, Plushenko is not a model for Victor. Is Victor so legendary no one in real life can touch him?

Victor is also partially based on American actor John Cameron Mitchell. In a tweet from Kubo, when she first thought about Victor’s visual design last year, she thought of Mitchell, an actor she saw during a trip to New York.

Yūri Katsuki and ???

Who is Yūri's real life counterpart? According to Kubo, Yūri is not merely one Japanese figure skater. Rather, she wanted him to be a character that could reflect all Japanese figure skaters and also be appreciated as a character on his own.

However, it is easy to find bits and pieces of other skaters in Yūri. As seen in numerous fan made videos, Yūri's short program Eros matches Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyū 2014 Sochi Olympic Short Program. Beyond Hanyū, figure skater Tatsuki Machida influenced the series and potentially Yūri. The retirement of figure skater Tatsuki Machida's retirement partially inspired Kubo to create the series and make it successful.

(Emphasis mine)

From Topic Station (Japanese), regarding Yuri Plisetsky's model,

When Kubo was interviewed regarding Yuri Plisetsky's voice actor, she mentioned a little bit about him,

Why Russian athletes are difficult to approach, it's because the appeal(?) is great. When I saw (Yulia) Lipnitskaya, I thought "If she was a man, it'd be the best", then directly used her as Yuri's image.


Nobunari Oda, a Japanese figure skater, requested to participate in the anime. He appears as a commentator in episode 11 and voiced his own character.

From Oricon News (Japanese), regarding Nobunari Oda,

Oda, who watched the anime every week from episode 1, quickly pleaded, "I want to appear as myself and commentating Yuuri's skate program even only for once!"

Nobunari Oda in YoI Nobunari Oda at recording place


Stéphane Lambiel, a French commentator in episode 12, was also a real-life figure skater. While he was born in Switzerland, he also speaks French, English, German, and Portugal. His outfit was also traced from 2016 NHK Trophy.

Stéphane Lambiel in YoI Stéphane Lambiel at 2016 NHK Trophy

  • 2
    Note: there are still many characters to be mentioned, but I decided to separate them into 2 posts between "official" answer and "fans' theory" answer. – Aki Tanaka Feb 22 '17 at 17:16
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Based on fans theory, the rest of the characters are:

  • Yuri Katsuki: Tatsuki Machida (Kubo's fan), Daisuke Takahashi (high potential, weak mental; glass-hearted), Yuzuru Hanyu, Takahiko Kozuka
  • Victor Nikiforov: Evgeni Plushenko (history), John Cameron Mitchell (appearance), Stéphane Lambiel (relation to Machida)

    Victor Nikiforov John Cameron Mitchell

  • Yuri Plisetsky: Yulia Lipnitskaya, Maya Plisetskaya (ballet, name), Artur Gachinski (appearance, successor to Russia's top figure skater Plushenko), Yuzuru Hanyu (skate's blade, body figure), Evgeni Plushenko (child figure)
  • Guang-Hong Ji: Boyang Jin (young, shy), Yan Han (likes to take selfie)
  • Christophe Giacometti: Stéphane Lambiel (charming, slow-starter, own cats as pet)

    Christophe Giacometti Stéphane Lambiel

  • Jean-Jacques Leroy: Patrick Chan (big mouth)
  • Phichit Chulanont: Michael Christian Martinez (both South-East Asian skater), Nobunari Oda (pose, likes SNS and taking selfie), Nam Nguyen

    Phichit Chulanont Nobunari Oda

  • Otabek Altin: Denis Ten (born and based in Almaty ,Kazakhstan; often receives teddy bear)

    Otabek Altin Denis Ten

  • Michele Crispino: Brian Joubert (hairstyle, outfit), Michal Březina (brother-sister relationship)

    Michele Crispino Brian Joubert

  • Sara Crispino: Eliška Březinová (brother-sister relationship)
  • Kenjiro Minami: Akio Sasaki (acting), Yamato Tamura (hairstyle)
  • Seung Gil Lee: Kim Yuna (strict to other people, acting skill, own dogs as pet)
  • Emil Nekola: Tomáš Verner (jump style)
  • Georgi Popovich: (none)
  • Leo de la Iglesia: Jason Brown (doesn't jump quads)
  • Mila Babicheva: Ashley Wagner (practice outfit, red hair)
  • Golden Spin's 2nd-place skater: Ivan Righini (hairstyle, beard, outfit)

    2nd-place skater Ivan Righini


  • Yakov Feltsman (Victor's coach): Alexei Mishin (appearance, Plushenko's coach)

    Yakov Feltsman Alexei Mishin

  • Celestino Cialdini (Katsuki's coach): Pasquale Camerlengo (Detroit Skating Club, hairstyle)

    Celestino Cialdini Pasquale Camerlengo

  • Lilia Baranovskaya (Yuri's choreographer, Bolshoi Ballet's principal): Maya Plisetskaya (appearance, Bolshoi Ballet's leading soloist), Ksenia Rumyantseva (appearance), Lyudmila Vlasova (Bolshoi Ballet's choreographer)

    Lilia Baranovskaya Ksenia Rumyantseva Maya Plisetskaya

  • Kanako Odagaki (Kenjiro's coach): Kanako Odagaki (coach)
  • Leo's coach: Rohene Ward (hairstyle, Jason Brown's choreographer)

    Leo's coach Rohene Ward

  • Christophe's coach: Karel Fajfr (appearance, red glasses)

    Christophe's coach Karel Fajfr

  • Pitchit's coach: Satsuki Muramoto (hairstyle, outfit, coaching in Thailand)

    Pitchit's coach Satsuki Muramoto


  • Hisashi Morooka (reporter): Taihei Katō (figure skating reporter, voice actor, outfit)

    Hisashi Morooka Taihei Katō

  • Honda (commentator): Takeshi Honda (self-voice actor, commentator)

    Honda (commentator) Takeshi Honda

  • Nakaniwa (commentator): Kensuke Nakaniwa (commentator, appearance)

    Nakaniwa (commentator) Kensuke Nakaniwa

  • Stéphane Lambiel (reporter): Stéphane Lambiel (self-voice actor, outfit)
  • Nobunari Oda (commentator): Nobunari Oda (self-voice actor, commentator)

  • Axel, Lutz, Loop (Nishigori's children): Type of jumps in figure skating

Legends:

  • Bolded names are most probable theories
  • Italic names are probable theories
  • Normal names are weak theories

References:

  • Some people suggested that Lilia Baranovskaya was a tribute to Maya Plisetskaya. (Example; I also recall seeing this elsewhere.) I don't know how probable it is though. – Maroon Feb 24 '17 at 17:55
  • @Maroon thanks. It seems she is highly probable. Researching her relation to YoI suggested this (including from Japanese fans) – Aki Tanaka Feb 24 '17 at 18:39

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