Yuzuru Hanyu leads glorious Japanese Olympic skating finish

Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu during the 2018 Winter Olympic Games on February 17, 2018. (ROBERTO SCHMIDT/AFP/Getty Images)
CNN  — 

Defending Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu completed his stunning comeback from injury to win the men’s single skating event and claim Japan’s first gold medal at the 2018 PyeongChang Winter Olympics.

The Japanese figure skater built on his stellar performance in the short program on Friday and got the second-highest score in the free skating event Saturday, despite missing two jumps.

Hanyu joins Sweden’s Gillis Grafstrom (1920, 1924, 1928), Austria’s Karl Schafer (1932 and 1936) and the USA’s Dick Button (1948 and 1952) as the only men to win successive Olympic gold medals in this event.

He also becomes the third Japanese athlete to win gold at two different Olympic Winter Games, after Kenji Ogiwara and Takanori Kono in the Nordic combined team event in 1992 and 1994.

Hanyu’s sensational performance in the short program, where he scored 111.68 points, meant he was favorite to win gold. His domination of Friday’s event was so complete that the arena was showered with Winnie the Pooh plush toys at the end of his routine. Hanyu considers Pooh a lucky charm, and regularly carries the bear with him as a mascot.

His point tally after Saturday’s free skating final, stood at 317.85 - almost 11 points more than his compatriot Shoma Uno, who won silver.

Hanyu’s win also made him the 1000th gold medalist in the history of the Winter Olympics, 94 years after the first Winter Olympics gold medal was awarded to US speed skater Charles Jewtraw.

02:10 - Source: CNN
Leaving Sochi with a gold medal for Japan

The 23-year-old, a survivor of the 2011 Japan earthquake and tsunami, was in tears after his golden performance on Saturday, and said defending his Olympic title was the best day of his skating life.

“My tears were from my heart. I can find one word and that is happy.”

“I have no words right now. I am overwhelmed. I am just happy with my performance and my hard training and everything,” he said.

Asked how he coped with the battle to be fit, here’s what Hanyu, who hasn’t competed since injuring his ankle in October, said.

“I just thought, ‘skate’. Just think about skating all day, all week, every day. And I trusted.”

CNN’s Tokyo producer Yoko Wakatsuki reports Japanese social media being flooded with “tens of thousands of messages filled with screen grabs, old pics and illustrations of teddy bears”, adding that the “nation is filled with happiness.”

Those who took to Twitter to congratulate Hanyu and Uno included fellow Olympic medalist, swimmer Ryosuke Irie and Prime Minister Shinzo Abe.

“Congratulations, Hanyu and Uno! Sweat on my hands. Got goose bumps and my heartbeats was all over the place. Nathan Chen’s performance in free style was fantastic too!” Irie tweeted.

Abe shared an old picture of himself with Hanyu and thanked him for his achievement. “Congratulations, Hanyu! Second consecutive victory in Olympics after overcoming the injury. Your wonderful performance grabbed our hearts,” the Prime Minister tweeted.

Japan's Shoma Uno, at the Rostelecom Cup 2016 ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating on November 6, 2016. (ALEXANDER NEMENOV/AFP/Getty Images)

With Shoma Uno’s silver, Japan becomes the first country to win two medals in this event at a single Winter Games since 2002, when Russia’s Yagudin won and Plushenko finished second.

Spain’s Javier Fernandez, who also performed very well in the strong short program, won the bronze medal.

The performance of the night, however, belonged to American youngster Nathan Chen, who performed an astonishing six quads in a beautifully choreographed routine accompanied by music from 2009 movie, Mao’s Last Dancer.

Chen scored 215.08 points, allowing him leapfrog the rankings table, from 17th to fifth place. His countrymen Vincent Zhou and Adam Rippon finished sixth and tenth, respectively.

USA's Nathan Chen at the free skating event on February 17, 2018. (ARIS MESSINIS/AFP/Getty Images)

In a Team USA press release later, Chen spoke about how his poor performance in the short program motivated him to do better on Saturday.

“I definitely did want to redeem myself after the two short programs and I think I did here,” he said.

Chen added that he didn’t even tell his coach that he was would attempt six quads instead of five, as he had been expected to do.

“It was sort of an anger thing. I was just like, ‘Oh screw it, I’m going to try it. At this point I have literally nothing to lose. I’ll just go for it.”

The 18-year-old was blunt when asked to assess his overall performance at the games.

“Honestly, I am human, I make mistakes. Unfortunately I had been having a really bad time. But I’m really happy with what I did here,” he said.