Brilliant again: Olympic champ Hanyu Yuzuru captures sixth Japanese title, books Beijing berth

Hanyu had not competed since April, but will make his third Japanese Olympic team. He stood up on an attempted quadruple Axel.

By Nick McCarvel and Shintaro Kano
Picture by Kentaro Aragaki/Olympic Channel

Hanyu Yuzuru is Japanese national champion - for a sixth time.

The two-time Olympic figure skating gold medallist soared to another victory on Sunday (26 December) at the Japanese national championships in Saitama, winning his country's men's singles crown and punching his ticket to the coming Winter Olympic Games at Beijing 2022.

Hanyu earned 322.36 points for the victory, having taken the lead after the short program and never looking back with a free skate score of 211.05.

PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist Uno Shoma was second with a 295.82, followed by Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020 champion Kagiyama Yuma, who scored a 292.41.

"It’s a huge load off the shoulders," Hanyu said. "Being honest, I felt like I was going to cry even before the six minutes [warm-up period] began. I started wondering about how many more times I’ll be in this environment. I thought about all the work I put in up until now.

"Practice today didn’t go well, so it's a huge relief."

Hanyu attempted a never-done-before quadruple Axel to open his skate, standing up on the jump, though it was downgraded and landed on two feet.

He has made the historic jump a focus this Olympic season despite missing both his Grand Prix events while dealing with a sprained ankle, having not competed since April.

The 27-year-old winced as he was asked about the quad Axel: "The Axel is really difficult. But it felt like part of the overall program so I’m pleased about that," he said. "I’ll keep working from hereon."

The Japanese Skating Federation officially named the Olympic team later Sunday night, which includes Hanyu, Uno and Kagiyama. See who else made the team here.

MORE: Hanyu leads after short program | Sakamoto captures women's title

Hanyu: The quad Axel - and another national title

The quad Axel has been a talking point for Hanyu over the last couple of years, and the 27-year-old - who has spent much of the last 18 months training at home in Japan separate from coach Brian Orser - has made it his goal, saying it was a priority for him this Olympic quad.

After trying several in practice upon arriving in Saitama, Hanyu opened his Heaven and Earth with an attempted quad Axel. He landed the jump, though on two feet, and completed the rotation on the ice, therefore the jump was downgraded by the technical panel of judges.

But after attempting history, Hanyu settled into the program - which he competed with last season, as well - with ease, hitting three more quad jumps and two triple Axels, and skating with a sort of emotional connection that has earned him legions of fans around the world.

He received a standing ovation for the skate, and stayed center ice for several moments taking in what he had just accomplished.

Hanyu's sixth national title is a second in a row having also won four straight 2013-16. The ankle injury that forced him out of the Grand Prix Series does not appear to be hampering him on competitive ice, and he'll take the momentum of another win at home - against two fierce competitors in Uno and Kagiyama - into February's Games, where he'll try to win a third consecutive Olympic gold medal, not done in nearly 100 years in men's skating.

Japanese medallists, (L-R) Uno, Hanyu and Kagiyama
Picture by Kentaro Aragaki/Olympic Channel

Uno, Kagiyama close their cases for Beijing team

Having fallen in Friday's short program, the teenager Kagiyama showed again why he's been a revelation on the senior international circuit, winner at both of his Grand Prix stops this season and the reigning world silver medallist.

He hit three quads in his Gladiator-themed free skate, showing off his Gladiatorial spirit. Breathless as he finished, Kagiyama got a roar from the crowd. His father and coach, two-time Olympic figure skater Kagiyama Masakazu, pounded the rink boards in celebration, too.

"There was a time when I wasn’t sure about the Olympics," Kagiyama told reporters after. "I wouldn’t give myself full marks but I’m so relieved now. I was determined not to give up. My father told me I fought through it."

While Kagiyama went down in the short, it was Uno who fell in the free, midway through his Bolero program, choreographed by coach Stephane Lambiel. Uno fell on an attempted quad toe-loop, having landed four other quads in his skate. His 193.94 was four points shy of Kagiyama, but the 24-year-old's cushion from the short program gave him enough space to save the silver.

Uno fought through the program on Sunday much as he has the last four years, which have been topsy-turvy and at one point had him considering retirement before switching to work with Lambiel, who helped breathe new life into his skating.

"I’m giving myself a pat on the back," Uno said afterwards. "I don’t have my jumps back yet. I thought if I made one mistake it might just all fall apart. But I was working hard until I came here and I think it showed.

"I don’t think much about what I’m facing. Probably everyone is thinking about what Hanyu-san is trying to accomplish. This is not a challenge for me at all."

Uno is set for his second Olympic team, where he'll be among the podium favourites. Actually, all three Japanese men will factor into the medal conversation in Beijing. The men's singles event is set for 8 and 10 February, immediately following the team event.

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