Olympics / Winter Olympics / Figure skating

Majestic Yuzuru Hanyu defends Olympic figure skating title

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu etched his name into the pantheon of skating legends with a second straight Olympic gold medal in the free skate at the Pyeongchang Games on Saturday.

In doing so, the defending Olympic and world champion achieved a feat that had not been accomplished in 66 years, since American Dick Button won his second gold at the 1952 Winter Games in Oslo. Button won his first gold in 1948 at the St. Moritz Games in Switzerland.

The 23-year-old superstar became one of just four men in Olympic history to win consecutive golds with the triumph. Hanyu joined Sweden’s Gillis Grafstrom, Austria’s Karl Schafer and Button in the history books. Grafstrom won three straight (1920, 1924, 1928) golds, while Schafer reigned in 1932 and 1936.

Against what seemed almost insurmountable odds after suffering a serious injury to the lateral tendon in his right ankle just three months ago that kept him off the ice for two months, the Sendai native landed four quadruple jumps to scale the summit of the sport in spectacular fashion at Gangneung Ice Arena. What he did here was nothing short of phenomenal.

Hanyu skated to “Seimei” and exerted his incredible force of will from beginning to end. He embraced the music and did it all. His hydroblade and Ina Bauer near the end capping off the historic effort that earned him a total score of 317.85 points. The victory gave Japan its first gold of the games.

Shoma Uno skated last and came through with a clutch performance to capture the silver medal with 306.90, while Hanyu’s training partner Javier Fernandez claimed the bronze on 305.24.

The 1-2 finish by Hanyu and Uno brought Japan its first ever multiple skating medals in a single figure skating discipline at the Olympics, while Fernandez collected a historic first Olympic medal in the sport for Spain.

Yuzuru Hanyu (right) and Shoma Uno hold Japanese flags after finishing the competition first and second, respectively.
Yuzuru Hanyu (right) and Shoma Uno hold Japanese flags after finishing the competition first and second, respectively. | AFP-JIJI

Hanyu opened with a beautiful quad salchow, followed that with a superb quad toe loop, then hit a triple flip. Following a combination spin and his step sequence, Hanyu landed a fantastic quad salchow/triple toe loop, then made it four quads with a toe loop that was supposed to be the first of a three-combo jump, but wasn’t executed. That was the lone blip in the program.

Hanyu then pulled off a triple axel/single loop/triple salchow combo, a triple loop and a triple lutz, before closing with a sit spin, choreographic sequence and a combination spin. Waiting in a back room for Fernandez and Uno to finish their free skates, Hanyu was overcome with emotion when Uno’s score was posted and he wept openly, the magnitude of his incredible accomplishment setting in.

“I have no words, right now,” Hanyu stated immediately after winning. “I am overwhelmed. This is the best day of my skating life. My tears were from my heart. I can find one word and that is ‘happy.’ “

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan performs during the men
Yuzuru Hanyu competes in the men’s free skate on Saturday. | AP

After some time to cool down, Hanyu put everything in perspective at the post-event news conference.

“Since I was injured, I am very fortunate to skate here at the Olympics,” Hanyu commented. “I am indeed very happy to win the Olympic gold medal.”

Hanyu admitted that he made the most of a very difficult situation.

“I am truly proud of this achievement,” Hanyu added. “I had to do what I could do at this moment.”

Shoma Uno performs en route to a silver medal at the Pyeongchang Games on Saturday.
Shoma Uno performs en route to a silver medal at the Pyeongchang Games on Saturday. | KYODO

Uno competed to “Turandot” and battled magnificently to make the podium. He fell on his opening quad loop, but landed a quad flip, and two quad toe loops while impressing the crowd with his considerable skill and presentation ability.

The 20-year-old Uno’s reaction to getting the silver medal was typically understated.

“There was no special feeling right now,” Uno commented. “I was just focused on my performance. The goal was to pull off what I had prepared.”

Uno noted how he retained his poise after going down on the quad loop.

“I missed the first jump, but the rest of the program was fine,” Uno assessed. “I stayed calm after the mistake and was able to give a good performance. I tried to skate like in practice.”

Javier Fernandez competed to “Man of La Mancha” and gave it a real go to try and overtake Hanyu. Fernandez cleanly landed a quad toe loop and a quad salchow/double toe loop combo at the start of his program, then went for a triple axel/double toe loop combo but stepped out on the landing on the back end.

Fernandez was in with a chance, however, until he doubled a planned quad salchow.

“I feel like I had a few little mistakes,” Fernandez stated. “But I think it was a good program, a good fight.”

Despite the miscues, the 27-year-old was pleased with the final results.

“I finally got the medal I always wanted,” Fernandez said. “I am proud I can take it home and share it with the people.”

Button, tweeting from his home in North Salem, New York, congratulated Hanyu for joining him in rare territory.

“Bravo Hanyu, records are made to be tied,” the 88-year-old wrote.

Yuzuru Hanyu reacts after hearing his score for Saturday
Yuzuru Hanyu reacts after hearing his score for Saturday’s free skate. | REUTERS

During Hanyu’s free skate, Button lavished praise on his young successor.

“Quad salchow, beautiful, easy, light,” Button wrote. “Hanyu — Gorgeous. Beautifully choreographed with the music. Terrific theatre!”

Shortly after Hanyu’s victory, Prime Minister Shinzo Abe tweeted his regards to his compatriot.

“Huge congratulations to Mr. Yuzuru Hanyu on capturing a second consecutive Olympic gold, despite overcoming an injury,” Abe wrote. “Your stunning performance on the ice was truly moving. Thank you for touching our hearts!”

Button had one tweet about Uno, who he has always expressed admiration for.

“A powerful sparkplug,” Button wrote about the Nagoya native.

China’s Jin Boyang (297.77) competed to “Mars” and music from “Star Wars” and put on a fine display of jumping once again. He hit three quads, but fell on another (a quad toe loop) and ended up fourth.

“The result is good for me,” Jin said. “I am still young (20) and I still have a long way to go. I will keep working hard.”

Nathan Chen of the United States executes a jump during his free skate at the Pyeongchang Games on Saturday.
Nathan Chen of the United States executes a jump during his free skate at the Pyeongchang Games on Saturday. | AFP-JIJI

American Nathan Chen (297.35) finally put it together with an outstanding performance to “Mao’s Last Dancer” and moved up from 17th to place fifth. But it was too little, too late.

After dealing with consecutive disastrous short programs in the team event and on Friday, the 18-year-old reached down and finally realized his potential by skating a complete program while landing six quads.

Chen won the free skate with a tally of 215.08. Skating in the second group because of his poor finish in the short program, Chen temporarily moved him into first place by more than 40 points with the huge score.

Chen’s rally was reminiscent of Mao Asada’s comeback in her free skate in Sochi. Mao was 16th after the short program there, and moved all the way up to finish sixth with a great performance.

“I think honestly putting down a rough short program, and being so low in the placement, just took the pressure away from me,” Chen stated. “I no longer felt like I was striving for that first-place spot. It mostly was just me being out on the ice and enjoying myself, playing to the crowd and really soaking in the Olympic experience.”

Keiji Tanaka (244.83) skated to a medley from Federico Fellini movies and was 18th.

Tanaka landed a nice quad salchow on his first jump, but then hit the ice when he tried another that was supposed to be part of a combo with a double toe loop. He also fell on a triple axel.

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