GANGNEUNG, SOUTH KOREA – In the weeks leading up to the Pyeongchang Olympics, Javier Fernandez was fielding plenty of questions about his training partner, Yuzuru Hanyu. Hanyu, the defending Olympic champion, was hobbled by an ankle injury, missing two months of training while his damaged ligaments healed.
Few know Hanyu’s toughness better than Fernandez, who laughed at the idea that the Japanese superstar would not be at his best in Pyeongchang. “He’s Yuzu,’’ Fernandez said, calling Hanyu by his nickname. “Of course he’s going to be ready.’’
Was he ever. Hanyu, 23, became the first man in 66 years to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals in figure skating, topping an inspired competition Saturday with a score of 317.85. His effortless performance at Gangneung Ice Arena made it hard to believe he had not competed in nearly four months leading up to the Winter Games.
Hanyu’s screaming fans bombarded the ice with Pooh projectiles after a free skate filled with soaring jumps and soulful skating. His repeat performance atop the Olympic podium was the first since American Dick Button won consecutive golds in 1948 and 1952.
Shoma Uno of Japan took the silver, and Fernandez, of Spain, won bronze. The day’s most courageous skate came from Nathan Chen, the 18-year-old American who entered the Games as a gold-medal favorite. Chen, whose medal hopes were severely damaged by a calamitous short program, made Olympic history by landing six quadruple jumps in his free skate.
In 17th place after the short program, Chen had the slimmest of shots to get to the podium. But he wanted to go out fighting in his first Olympics, and he finally had the performance he dreamed of. His free-skate score of 215.08 was the highest of the day and blasted him all the way to fifth place.
“I wasn’t going to play it safe,’’ said Chen, whose total score of 297.35 was only .42 of a point behind the fourth-place skater, China’s Jin Boyang. “I had literally nothing to lose, so I decided to just try (six quads). I definitely wanted to redeem myself, and I think I did.’’
Adam Rippon’s lack of a quad kept him outside the medals, but the American delivered one of the most lyrical and heartfelt programs of the competition. A popular personality at these Olympics, he finished 10th. The third U.S. skater, Vincent Zhou, nailed a difficult program to land in sixth place.
The sweet-natured, soft-spoken, Winnie-the-Pooh-loving Hanyu is an idol in Japan. His eyes burned with intensity as he took the ice, and the only blemishes on his program were two wobbly landings.
“I have no words right now,’’ said Hanyu, who wept in Fernandez’s arms after his victory. “I am overwhelmed.’’
Chen admitted Saturday that he felt the pressure of the Olympic stage, though he had been denying it to everyone—including himself. He followed a poor short program in the team competition with a disastrous one in the men’s.
For his free skate, Chen decided to add one more quad to the five he already had planned. After landing all of them with only one imperfection—putting a hand to the ice on the quad flip--he finally managed a smile. His free-skate score was nearly nine points higher than Hanyu’s.
“Having such a rough short program allowed me to just forget about expectations and just really enjoy it,’’ said Chen, who credited fan support with helping him rebound. “I can’t decide the results, but I can still put my best foot forward.’’
Zhou’s technically demanding program boosted him up from 12th place after the short program. His four clean quads contributed to a career-best score.