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Hanyu wins Japan’s first gold medal of the Sochi Olympics

by Jack Gallagher

Staff writer

Yuzuru Hanyu overcame a sub-par free skate and hung on to win the Olympic gold medal at the Sochi Games on Friday night.

In doing so Hanyu became the first Japanese man to capture the Olympic gold in figure skating. He joins Shizuka Arakawa (winner at the 2006 Turin Games) as the only Japanese to claim skating’s Holy Grail.

It is Japan’s first gold medal of the games. In achieving the feat, Hanyu became the second-youngest man to take the title at 19 years, 69 days.

Only American Dick Button was younger (18 years, 202 days) when he won at the 1948 St. Moritz Games in Switzerland.

“Oh my God. I’m so surprised. I can’t find words,” said Hanyu after his victory. “It was such a difficult program for me and I felt rough, physically. I’m just shocked.”

Hanyu acknowledged that he was under intense stress ahead of his skate.

“I was trying not to think about winning a gold medal, but I couldn’t deflect the pressure, which was massive,” he stated.

“I’m so proud of this feat as a Japanese,” he commented. “The Olympics is so wild and unpredictable. I’ve never been this nervous for a competition in my entire life.”

The gold for Hanyu came with a great deal of drama attached to it.

Hanyu, who held a nearly four-point lead after Thursday’s short program, performed to “Romeo and Juliet” and fell on his opening quadruple salchow. He bounced back to land a quad toe loop, but then touched the ice with both hands on a triple flip.

The Sendai native fought on valiantly, landing seven triple jumps and impressing with his spins and choreographic sequence. He received a score of 280.09 points, but with second-place Chan skating immediately after him, it appeared that Hanyu had left the door open to be overtaken.

But fate intervened, as Chan, the three-time defending world champion, struggled through an error-filled program that saw him touch the ice with both hands on a quad toe loop and a triple axel, then endure a pair of shaky landings on a triple loop and double axel.

Chan skated to “Four Seasons” and appeared sluggish from the outset. It looked as if the gold was there for the taking, but he just did not possess the energy or stamina to go and get it.

“My plan was to take all the elements one thing at a time,” said Chan. “I wanted to focus on myself, but I made several little mistakes. Figure skating is hard.”

The result means the so-called “Canadian Curse” will continue. Chan’s silver marks the fifth time Canada has been the runnerup in the Olympics in the event.

Hanyu’s coach, Brian Orser, was second in both 1984 and 1988, as was Elvis Stojko in 1994 and 1998.

“There was a lot of pressure to win the gold for Canada, but I really wanted to do it for myself,” said Chan. “Feeling the medal slip away was definitely a lingering thought. I’m disappointed, but life goes on.”

Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten vaulted from ninth after the short program to take the bronze with 255.10.

Ten nailed a quad toe loop and seven triple jumps to earn his nation’s first Olympic figure skating medal ever.

“This was definitely my season’s best. I’m glad about all the jumps and I tried my best in choreography,” said Ten. “I hope people enjoyed it.”

Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who was third after the short program, took fourth with a tally of 253.92.

Tatsuki Machida (253.42) climbed from 11th after the short program into fifth place.

Machida, who was a disappointing 11th after the short program, competed to “Firebird” and fell on his opening quad toe loop. He recovered to land a quad toe loop/double toe loop combo and seven triple jumps.

“I was very confident with my quad, so I was surprised when I crashed,” said the 23-year-old.

Machida admitted that he was running out of gas as his program went on.

“My stamina was gone,” he said. “I was competing in the team event, so in one week I skate two long programs and one short program. I couldn’t give my best because I was so tired.”

Daisuke Takahashi, the bronze medalist four years ago in Vancouver, came in sixth on 250.67.

Takahashi, competing to a Beatles medley, two-footed the landing on his opening quad toe loop and underrotated a triple axel. He did land six triple jumps, but it was not enough to make the Olympic podium for a second time.

The 2010 world champion acknowledged that he has still not recovered from an injury to his right knee that he suffered back in November.

“I was never going to be 100 percent for this, but I agreed with (coach) Nikolai (Morozov) not to give up, and I’m glad I didn’t,” Takahashi said. “I poured my heart into it.”