Japan's Hanyu defends men's figure skating title

By Pat Graham
Associated Press
Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan celebrates after winning the gold medal in the men's free figure skating final in the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Gangneung, South Korea on Saturday.

Gangneung, South Korea — Move over Dick Button, make room atop men’s Olympic figure skating history for Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu.

Hanyu became the first man to successfully defend his Olympic title since Button in 1952. He held off countryman Shoma Uno and Spain’s Javier Fernandez in Saturday’s free skate.

Fernandez shares the same coach, Brian Orser, with Hanyu. Orser rushed to greet Hanyu as he left the ice after his strong but slightly flawed performance. Then Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medalist, rushed to behind the sideboards to help encourage Fernandez during his skate.

Fernandez couldn’t match Hanyu, and Uno finished the day by moving up from third to second overall, loading a high-scoring quad and three triples into the final minute of his routine.

American Nathan Chen surged from a fiasco of a short program, when he was 17th, by winning the free skate to wind up fifth overall.

As always, Hanyu skated to raucous support from the crowd , with thousands of Japanese mini-flags displaying the rising sun filling the stands. And, as always, he was terrific, though not perfect, particularly messing up a combination jump.

And, yes, always, he left the ice to a swarm of cascading Winnie The Pooh dolls flooding the ice.

When he got to the medals stand for the presentation, Hanyu leaped to the top step, his place in rink history secured.

Uno might have won the gold if not for his magnificent countryman. His energy throughout, particularly in the back end of his routine to “Turandot,” permeated the arena, and he pumped his arms wildly when he finished.

Fernandez, skating to “Man of La Mancha,” was a worthy medalist, finishing just 1.66 points behind Uno.

U.S. champion Nathan Chen rocketed up the standings with an historic routine featuring six quads; only he had done as many as five in a program.

The 18-year-old Chen had succumbed to the pressure and massive expectations in the short program, a day earlier. On Saturday, he nailed virtually every element. He even did the sixth quad, a loop, getting full credit for the four rotations though he put his hands down on the ice on it.

“I think after having such a disastrous short program and being so, so low in the ranking  lower than I usually ever am  it allowed me to completely forget the results and focus on enjoying myself out on the ice,” Chen said, “and getting rid of expectations helped a lot.”

He led all three U.S. skaters into the top 10 as his 127.64 points for technical virtuosity put him in another stratosphere, and his 215.08 points for the free skate were a personal high.

Chen’s 17-year-old teammate Vincent Zhou, put down five quads  as if to say, “Hey buddy, I can do this, too”  in another spectacular jumping show. Zhou also soared in the standings, winding up sixth.

“It’s been such a wild ride over my short 17 years,” Zhou said. “I’ve been through so much, it would take me hours to say it all. But to skate like that, to have a successful performance means so much to me.

“Nothing like anything I’ve ever experienced before.”

Adam Rippon doesn’t do quads, but his mesmerizing presentation and dramatic flair earn him points. The 28-year-old dropped from seventh to 10th, but these were successful games for him, and his arm pumps to bolster the audience’s cheers when he was done lent a comical touch.