Pyeongchang is 1,000 km away from Tokyo.
But fans in Japan erupted into wild cheers of joy at the same moment that Japanese skaters took the top two spots in the men’s figure skating competition at the Pyeongchang Games on Saturday.
Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno won gold and silver, respectively, with Hanyu becoming the first man to capture consecutive Olympic figure skating golds in 66 years.
“It just feels incredibly great,” 49-year-old figure skating fan Takashi Kondo said of Hanyu’s achievement at a public viewing site at NHK Fureai Hall in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward. “I was worried how he’d do (because of an ankle injury he sustained last November). But he masterfully showcased a great performance.”
NHK is holding public viewing events throughout the ongoing Pyeongchang Olympics. But figure skating competitions are clearly the biggest attraction. An NHK official said that the first fans arrived at the hall at around 5:30 a.m.
It looked like 80 to 90 percent of the 271-seat hall was occupied with female fans. Many fans could not get in and had to stand and watch the competition on smaller screens outside.
Toshinobu Takahashi, who came to the public viewing site with Kondo, said that he could not even imagine how much effort Hanyu had to put in after a three-month competitive layoff before the Olympics.
“He got injured, and wound up doing as well as he did at this Olympics,” Takahashi, a 48-year-old company employee, said in awe. “It probably required tons of work to realize that.”
Hanyu had already achieved superstar status before the Olympics. But with another gold medal around his neck, the Sendai native has moved to a higher level.
“He’s become a god,” Takahashi said of Hanyu, a two-time world champion. “I mean, he’s now in that realm.”
Takahashi said that it used to be “unimaginable” that Japanese skaters could win a medal at the Olympics.
Two middle-aged government workers and long-time figure skating fans, who asked not to be named, said they were both enthusiastic Uno followers.
One of the women, acknowledging that she was biased, believed that Uno had a better performance than Hanyu. The 20-year-old Uno scored higher points in the technical elements than Hanyu in the free skate.
But with Uno having become an Olympic silver medalist, she said that she wants to see him perform in person even more.
“I would like to see Shoma, who now is a medalist,” she said.
Meanwhile, Mie Shoda, 27, watched the post-competition ceremony with mixed emotions.
She said that she did not want to take anything away from Hanyu, but she felt sympathy for Uno, her favorite skater, because the first-time Olympian was overshadowed by Hanyu’s feat.
“Uno has such a strong mentality, almost too strong, because he was the last skater to perform and he managed to give a great performance (despite the pressure),” Shoda said. “He was like, ‘I just need to focus on my own skating, right?’
“But poor him. Winning a silver medal at the Olympics is a great feat in itself. But with Hanyu having repeated as champion, I’m afraid that (Uno) will be overshadowed.”
It was not just Japanese fans praising Hanyu and Uno. Some former star skaters reacted to their phenomenal performances on Twitter.
Evgeni Plushenko, the men’s singles gold medalist at the 2006 Turin Olympics tweeted: “I am so proud of Yuzuru!!!! What a champion!!”
Two-time Olympian and two-time world champion Miki Ando wrote of Hanyu, in Japanese, on her Twitter account: “He made a few mistakes yet showed absolute strength. It was truly great. Thanks for giving Japan and the world excitement and emotion!!! Thanks for the performance full of Japanese spirit.”
Four-time U.S. champion and bronze medalist in the team competition at the 2014 Sochi Olympics Jeremy Abbott tweeted: “Shoma is a fighter like I have never seen!”