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Olympic stars return to Japan from Sochi

by Hiroshi Ikezawa

Staff Writer

Men’s figure skating gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu has already put his triumph at the Sochi Olympics behind him and while he’s already looking ahead to the upcoming world championships, he isn’t looking far enough into the future to consider the possibility of adding a second consecutive gold medal at the 2018 Pyeongchang Games just yet.

“I’m very proud of what I achieved at Sochi,” Hanyu said during a news conference at a Tokyo hotel a few hours after the Japanese delegation’s return from Russia. “But I’m not satisfied with my performance at all. I have a lot of room to improve my free program.”

Asked what he wants to do now, Hanyu answered, “Nothing really. I just want to start practicing for the world championships. My next goal is to improve myself and perform well enough to deserve to be the Olympic champion.”

The world championships are scheduled to take place March 26-30 at Saitama Super Arena.

Hanyu declined to discuss the prospect of defending his title at the next Winter Games, only saying that he hopes to keep competing long enough to reach 2018, but will maintain a one-competition-at-a-time mentality.

Five medalists from the Sochi Games, including Hanyu, attended the news conference as well as the flag bearer, Ayumi Ogasawara of Japan’s curling team, and female speedskater Maki Tabata, the vice captain of the Japan delegation.

Other medalists in attendance were silver medalists Ayumu Hirano (men’s snowboard halfpipe) and Tomoka Takeuchi (women’s snowboard parallel giant slalom), and bronze medalists Ayana Onozuka (women’s freestyle skiing halfpipe) and Taku Hiraoka (men’s snowboard halfpipe).

Silver medalists Noriaki Kasai (men’s ski jumping) and Akito Watabe (Nordic combined) were absent as they are taking part in competition overseas.

Japan also took bronze in the men’s ski jumping team event giving the country eight medals overall in its second-best showing at a Winter Games — Japan won 10 medals during the 1998 Nagano Games — and most during an Olympiad on foreign soil.

“I made history,” said Hirano, the youngest Winter Olympic medalist in Japanese history at age of 15. “Taking the silver at the Olympics is very encouraging.”

Hirano also joined Onozuka and ski jumper Reruhi Shimizu as the first Winter Olympic medalists from Niigata Prefecture.

“This is my fourth Olympics and finally I figured out how to win,” Takeuchi said. “I’m disappointed that I finished with the silver medal, (but) I’m happy that many people got to know snowboard parallel.”

Seiko Hashimoto, the head of the Japan delegation and a member of the Upper House, showed her satisfaction with Japan’s overall outcome, pointing out that 28 athletes finished in the top eight of their events, the country’s most ever in a Winter Olympics.

“Now we found what we should do toward the future Olympics, especially the 2020 Tokyo Games,” Hashimoto said. “We need more support from the nation, better environment for the athletes such as national training centers. The athletes should go overseas more to compete at a higher level and we have to provide them the top-level coaches.

“The 2020 Games will become the springboard to urge the nation to give more support to sports,” Hashimoto continued.

“We appreciate that and we have to answer it by providing better results. All of us are accountable for it. We will keep doing our effort to make sports a stronger part of our culture.”