GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu took gold in the men’s singles competition on Saturday despite several mistakes in an otherwise mesmerizing programme, becoming the first man in 66 years to defend his Olympic title and giving Japan its first Pyeongchang gold.
Skating in front of a crowd of euphoric supporters at the Gangneung Ice Arena, the 23-year-old took steps out of his quad toeloop and triple Lutz. But those errors did not stop him from delivering a gold-worthy performance despite a gap of weeks in his training after injuring his ankle last November.
Hanyu, a two-time world champion, finished nearly 11 points overall ahead of compatriot Shoma Uno. It was the first time Japanese athletes took two top podium places at a Winter Olympics since 1972.
“Getting to this place was really tough,” Hanyu told reporters. “Because I had time off from skating, I was able to do a lot of planning and thinking about strategy.”
Out of competition since October and off the ice for weeks after a training fall that injured his ankle in November, Hanyu said his leg was still not in perfect condition and that a making a full recovery was his first goal.
“When I was hurt I had a lot of days when I thought I might not be able to skate again, so now having been able to skate and getting these good results is really the best,” Hanyu later told a news conference.
Japan exploded with joy at his win, the first time a male figure skater defended his Olympic title since American Dick Button in 1952. Within 90 minutes of Hanyu’s victory the hashtag “Hanyu-kun” - an affectionate diminutive - had been tweeted 1.1 million times and was the top trend globally.
Skating last, Uno fell on his opening quad loop but fought his way back to silver, earning a combined total of 306.90 points.
Javier Fernandez, a six-time European champion competing in his last Olympics, made a wobbly landing on his quad Salchow early in his programme but regrouped to earn 197.66 points for his free skate and 305.24 overall.
“I know I didn’t do the perfect programme, but I was satisfied with what I did,” Fernandez told reporters.
“It got me an Olympic medal. That’s all I’ve got to say.”
Quadruple jump specialist Nathan Chen rebounded from an error-laden short programme with a historic free skate that put him in the lead before Hanyu, Uno and Fernandez had skated.
The 18-year-old American, who was 17th after the short programme, became the first skater to land six quads at the Olympics to earn 215.08 points, nearly 11 more than his personal best. He finished fifth with a combined total of 297.35.
“I think that after having such a disastrous short programme and being so, so low in the rankings, lower than almost ever, it allowed me to completely forget about results and just completely focus on enjoying myself out on the ice,” said Chen, who won bronze with the U.S. in the team event.
Canada’s Patrick Chan, who was sixth going into the free skate after falling on his triple Axel, stepped out of a triple toeloop and put his hand down on a triple Axel in the free skate.
Chan, who won gold with Canada in the team event, finished ninth overall in his last Olympics.
“It was obviously not the dream skate, but I think...from beginning to end, from day one of the Games to now, I’m very, very happy with how I held it together,” Chan told Reuters.
“I just kept chugging along at goals and achieved the goals I had set myself.”
Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber, Elaine Lies, additional reporting by Soyoung Kim; Editing by Greg Stutchbury/Amlan Chakraborty