Ice Network

The G.O.A.T.? Hanyu repeats as Olympic champion

Uno wins silver, gives Japan one-two finish; Fernández settles for bronze
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With a free skate that featured three perfectly executed quads and five clean triples, Yuzuru Hanyu defended his Olympic title Saturday in Gangneung, winning the gold over runner-up Shoma Uno by almost 11 points. With the victory, the Japanese megastar became the first men's skater in 66 years to repeat as Olympic champion. -Getty Images

GANGNEUNG, South Korea - Yuzuru Hanyu, the 23-year-old from Sendai, Japan, whose sweet, vulnerable demeanor belies a ferocious killer instinct, won his second consecutive Olympic title with a majestic, if slightly imperfect, free skate at Gangneung Ice Arena on Saturday.

"I would like to thank my ankle," Hanyu playfully told reporters, in a nod to the strained right ankle ligament that took him out of competition for several months. "You did a good job."

Performing to the soundtrack of the 2001 film SEIMEI, a fanciful tale of Japanese royal intrigue, Hanyu sailed confidently through his program's first half. Thunderous cheers from his legion of fans greeted confident landings on his quadruple salchow and quadruple toe loop, as well as a quad salchow-triple toe combination just after the halfway mark. The defending champion struggled with the landing of a second quad toe, unable to complete a combination, and turned out of the landing of a triple lutz before returning to brilliant form with captivating spins and steps.

Hanyu earned a season's best 206.17 points for the free skate, well under the 223.20-point mark he set at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, and ended with 317.85 total points to defeat countryman Shoma Uno by nearly 11 points. Spain's Javier Fernández, second after the short, lost a close contest for silver and settled for bronze.

But the medalists' programs took a back seat to Nathan Chen's effort Saturday. The U.S. champion, mired in 17th place after a dismal short program, fired back with a free skate that included six quadruple jumps. Five were landed cleanly, the first time that happened in Olympic history; the sixth, a second quad flip, was rotated but imperfectly landed. Still, the 215.08-point free skate could only lift Chen to fifth place overall.

"I'm happy I was able to at least win the free," Chen, 18, said. "I worked really hard for this competition, and obviously skating [a poor short] isn't a great feeling. The fact I could have done better, that I should have done way better, made me angry."

Hanyu arrived in PyeongChang a question mark. The ankle injury, suffered while practicing a quad lutz in early November, took him off the ice for two months. He only began landing quads two weeks ago, and was unable to return to training the quad lutz. Lack of time also prevented him from including a quad loop -- a jump he landed at the 2017 World Figure Skating Championships, where he won his second world title -- in his PyeongChang arsenal.

"I didn't break my world record, but I am very pleased my performance was judged so high," Hanyu said. "Four years ago in Sochi I did a couple of (big) mistakes. Today I didn't make any big ones, which I am very happy about."

Four-time world champion Kurt Browning wasn't surprised with Hanyu's ability to overcome his lack of training time.

"There is no one like Hanyu," Browning said. "I compare him a little bit to me, because when he's on, it's because he wills it. He has a natural instinct for the blade and flying through the air and finding that back-outside edge. Even if his quads aren't perfect, he makes them perfect; he sells them.

"When he doesn't train for two months, anything can happen," he added. "He could be a pile of porridge or he could just tune into that super-human trait he has to skate, which is what he did here. ... He doesn't need to do it every week, he just needs to know he can do it."

With his second Olympic gold, Hanyu becomes the first men's skater to win back-to-back Olympic titles since Dick Button in 1948 and 1952. The feat naturally prompted many to ask: Is he the greatest of all time?

"I'm not the best skater," Hanyu said, citing Button, as well as Evgeni Plushenko, Jeffrey Buttle, Johnny Weir and his coach, Brian Orser, as inspirations. "I can't think about the figure skating future -- maybe it will be changing -- I just appreciate the present. I am really happy to be in this generation."

But Browning thinks, with a few more world titles, Hanyu might take the nod.

"That's the 10th time I've been asked that question this week, and the eighth time today," he said. "Had Fernández not beaten him twice (at the world championships) in the last four years, it wouldn't be a question to ask -- he would be (the greatest). But why not him?"

Uno opened his free skate to Puccini's Turandot with a belly flop on a quad loop but recovered with a quad flip as well as five jumping passes in the program's second half. While he had to fight for several landings, his trademark passion and energy shone through, and he earned 202.73 points to place third in the free. His 306.90-point total placed him 1.66 ahead of Fernández.

"There is no disappointment for me," Uno said. "It was not close to perfect, but I was able put what I had been doing in practice into action."

The 20-year-old, who trains in Nagoya under Machiko Yamada and Mihoko Higuchi, seemed impervious to the hype and drama surrounding the Olympic Games.

"I know other skaters [think of] the Olympics as a special stage, but I did not have that attachment myself," Uno said. "I was jealous of their emotions. I just went out there and was able to skate."

Not so Fernández. The 26-year-old Spaniard missed out on bronze at the 2014 Games due to a quirk in the rules -- he did too many triple salchows -- and desperately wanted to bring home a medal to Spain, which had won only three Winter Olympic medals before today.

"Whether I am first, second or third, I will be happy," Fernández, who trains alongside Hanyu in Toronto, said after his second-place short program Friday.

For a second time at the Olympics, popping an intended quad salchow -- this time into a double -- cost the affable Spaniard. His stirring and charismatic free skate to music from Man of La Mancha included two quads, two triple axels and five triple jumps, but the 197.66 points he earned for it left him in third place.

"The quad salchow is just very difficult, and I just popped it today," Fernández said. "I tried to finish the program strong (with) no mistakes. I knew I lost a lot of points. It was too bad. Can't look back now, that's the way it was."

Fourth after the short, Boyang Jin of China held that position with a strong free to music from Star Wars and Gustav Holst's The Planets that featured four clean quads, including a superb opening quad lutz. He ended with 297.77 points.

U.S. bronze medalist Vincent Zhou, 12th after the short, tried five quads in his program to music from Moulin Rouge!, landing clean a quad lutz-triple toe combination, quad salchow and quad toe. His 192.16 points in the free skate gave him 276.69 overall, which vaulted him into sixth place.

"All three American men finished in the top 10, which is really awesome," Zhou said. "Nathan had a great free skate. I skated lights out. It was a great day, something I will remember forever. ... I'm never going to give anything up. I already knew that about myself, but it was reinforced today."

Adam Rippon skated a musical and sensitive program to a medley including "Arrival of the Birds" by the Cinematic Orchestra that featured two triple axels but lacked the quad content of the top skaters. Still, he placed 10th overall with 259.36 points.

"My skate in the team event was for my teammates. This skate, in the individual event, it was for me," Rippon, 28, said. "I've had a really long career with a lot of ups and downs. To come away from these Olympic Games, to skate three clean programs in the midst of what seems like a lot going on, a top-10 finish in the individual event, and a (team) bronze medal? It's been a dream Olympic Games for me."