Re-live Hanyu Yuzuru's PyeongChang 2018 win despite injury battle

On the third anniversary of the Japanese figure skater's second Olympic gold medal, we revisit the circumstances around his battle through injury to retain his title.

By ZK Goh
Picture by 2018 Getty Images

It's been three years since Hanyu Yuzuru successfully defended his figure skating men's singles Olympic title at PyeongChang 2018, becoming the first man since Dick Button in 1952 to do so.

On 17 February 2018, Hanyu dominated in the Gangneung Ice Arena, as the Winnie the Pooh bears rained down from the audience in celebration.

Hanyu's victory was the high point of a difficult few years for the Japanese, who had struggled with various injuries since his first win at Sochi 2014.

Here is how Hanyu overcame those difficulties to make it back to the top step of the Olympic podium.

Injury-hit years

After his double Olympic-World Championships triumph in 2014, Hanyu struggled with various injuries to his back, ankle, knee, and foot.

Despite this, he was still able to break multiple scoring records, while winning the Grand Prix Final in 2015 and 2016.

At both year's World Championships, skating through pain, he managed to win silver behind training mate Javier Fernández.

It was a sign that he would not give up that easily.

The 2016/17 season proved to be better for the Japanese in terms of injuries, as he remained relatively healthy and became the first skater to successfully land a quadruple loop before breaking the free skate ISU best score at the Worlds as he regained his world title.

Olympic season

Hanyu began his Olympic season with another world record, scoring 112.72 points in the short program at the Challenger Series Autumn Classic International.

He then won silver at the Rostelecom Cup Grand Prix, at which he landed his first quadruple Lutz in competition, but his participation in PyeongChang was thrown into doubt in November 2017.

Practising the quadruple Lutz in training, he injured an ankle ligament which forced him out of his second Grand Prix assignment, the NHK Trophy (and therefore the Grand Prix Final), as well as the Japanese nationals.

For a while, it looked like the Olympics would be a step too far, as Hanyu did not return to the ice to practise until January, only weeks before the Games.

Hanyu's milestone gold

The Japanese Skating Federation chose not to enter Hanyu in the team event in order to allow him more ice time in training before the singles, with Japan finishing fifth in his absence.

His first public skate in three months came on 16 February in the short program, set to Ballade No. 1 by Frédéric Chopin, and it seemed like he had never been away from the ice.

It was an impeccable skate with two quads - a Salchow and a toe loop – that had coaches Brian Orser and Ghislain Briand jumping for joy as they watched him, with his score of 111.68 points just shy of his world best.

If there were questions about his fitness, they appeared to be answered.

Then, in his Seimei free skate routine, Hanyu again did the quad Salchow and toe loop, avoiding the more trying quads to ease the pressure on his ankle. It turned out he had been relying on approved painkillers to get him through the competition, as he was still struggling with the injury.

Although he turned out of his second quad toe, leaving him unable to complete that combination and receiving a mark-down for repeating a jump, and stumbled on his final triple Lutz, he seemed to know he had done enough.

Hanyu fist pumped the air and screamed to himself in delight. While his technical score was marked down for his errors, he received a massive program components score, with all his artistry-based marks in the nines and tens.

His 317.85 points gave him not only his second consecutive gold medal, but also the gold in the 1000th medal event in Winter Olympic history.

After the Games

Hanyu had also been selected in the Japanese team for the 2018 World Championships in Milan, but his ankle ligament injury put paid to any plans of repeating his Olympics-Worlds double from 2014.

Instead, he returned to Japan, where a parade was held in April in his hometown Sendai to celebrate his efforts. That June, then-Japanese prime minister Abe Shinzo also awarded Hanyu the People's Honour Award, just the 27th person to receive the commendation and to date still the most recent.

Hanyu's luck with injuries did not subside the following year; at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow, he suffered another ankle injury after falling on a quadruple loop in practice.

Although he skated the free program on painkillers, the injury was serious enough to rule him out of the Grand Prix Final and Japanese nationals, as he finally returned at the Worlds, winning silver behind Nathan Chen.

Beijing 2022 awaits

The 2019/20 season proved fruitful for the Japanese, as he won at both of his Grand Prix assignments by large margins before winning silver at the Grand Prix Final.

He competed at the Four Continents Championships for the first time since 2017, winning it and completing his career "Super Slam" – winning the Junior Grand Prix Final, Junior World title, senior Grand Prix Final, Continental Championships, World Championships, and Olympic Games. He was also named the ISU's Most Valuable Skater.

However, the coronavirus pandemic deprived him of a chance to regain the world title, and also led to him withdrawing from the Grand Prix series in 2021.

At Beijing 2022, Hanyu has the chance to become the first man to win three Olympic singles titles in a row since Sweden's Gillis Grafström, who won the last of his golds at St. Moritz 1928.

Indeed, only two other people have won three Olympic titles in singles or pairs – Norway's Sonja Henie in ladies' singles in 1928, 1932, and 1936; and the Soviet pairs skater Irina Rodnina from 1972 to 1980.

More history awaits Hanyu in the Chinese capital. His rivals will have something to say about that.


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