• Kyodo, AFP-Jiji


Two-time defending Olympic men's champion Yuzuru Hanyu delivered a dramatic and nearly flawless free skate on Saturday to win his first national championship in five years.

Hanyu, who led after Friday's short program at Nagano's Big Hat arena by 4.93 points over NHK Trophy winner Yuma Kagiyama, wowed the crowd with a stirring performance that netted him 215.83 for a 319.36 total. It was Hanyu's first national title since he won four straight from 2012 to 2015.

Four-time defending champion Shoma Uno, third after the short program, delivered in a free skate that also included four quad jumps and earned him a score of 190.59, which lifted him to second.

"There were instances yesterday when I was a little tight, and it was good I got through that yesterday. That allowed me to execute tonight," Hanyu said.

"I really love to compete, and when I start competing, I feel I have to win and that brings some hardship."

Hanyu, who suffers from asthma and skipped this year's Grand Prix series due to the added concern of coronavirus infection, said he hopes his performance gives people the will to fight.

"There are so many things that we need to fight against in the world right now. I hope people out there take heart from this, find something inside themselves that will help them fight on.

"I really want peace to return to the world."

One day after unveiling a new high-octane short program routine set to Robbie Williams' "Let Me Entertain You," Hanyu performed to the more subdued "Heaven and Earth" but still wowed the crowd with his artistry and skill.

He began with a quad loop and a quad salchow before nailing a triple axel into a double toe loop.

He then landed a quad toe loop into a triple toe loop, a quad toe loop-single euler-triple salchow combination, then finished with a triple axel.

Hanyu has been training by himself this year, with his Canadian coach Brian Orser unable to join him because of travel restrictions, and he again sat alone clutching a Winnie the Pooh tissue box as he waited for his scores.

"I've been working on my own for a long time and that's meant I've had more worries and anxieties to deal with," said Hanyu.

"But I haven't really been alone. Training on my own has made me appreciate the connections I have. Of course I've been getting advice from afar, but I've taken more strength from the goodwill people have sent me."

The win gave the 26-year-old superstar his first national title since 2015 and earned him a place at next spring's world championships in Stockholm.

"Last year was very frustrating for me, and a part of me is happy that I was able to take revenge," said Hanyu, who finished second at last year's nationals.

"I think I was tired of fighting, and it felt like I could have quit any time. But I've come to realize that I enjoy the satisfaction you get from competing and coming through the hard times."

In ice dancing, longtime men's figure skating icon Daisuke Takahashi finished second with partner Kana Muramoto in the rhythm dance with 67.83 points behind two-time defending champions Misato and Takeru Komatsubara, who scored 71.74.

Takahashi, who is new to ice dancing this season, and Muramoto marked a 3.68-point improvement over their competitive debut as a couple at this month's NHK Trophy. They did so despite Muramoto needing to take painkillers after the two had a mishap in practice five hours earlier.

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