Pyeongchang (South Korea) (AFP) – Japan’s figure skating “Ice Prince” Yuzuru Hanyu swept into Pyeongchang to defend his Olympic crown on Sunday, promising to hit peak condition in his quest for a historic double.
The 23-year-old looked dapper in a team blazer and sported a new-look floppy fringe as he arrived under tight security at Incheon airport, but doubts still linger over his fitness following an injury scare.
“I won’t lie to myself, I’m here to win the title again,” Hanyu told reporters in the arrivals lobby before being whisked away to Pyeongchang.
“It’s been extremely irritating to have to sit out competitions but I’m just happy to be here. I’ll do everything I can to reach my peak in time,” he added.
“There’s no skater that wants to win this more than me.”
Hanyu, widely regarded as the greatest skater of all time, is bidding to become the first man to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating titles since American Dick Button in 1948 and 1952.
However, his double hopes were dealt a major blow when he crash-landed a quadruple lutz in training last November, damaging ankle ligaments and threatening to scuttle his Olympic dream.
Hanyu has been training in secret in Canada to prepare for the Olympic competition, which begins on Friday at Gangneung Ice Arena.
Arguably the most recognisable athlete of the Pyeongchang Olympics, a fit Hanyu would be a strong favourite to take gold — but his rivals are ready to pounce.
American Nathan Chen, Spain’s Javier Fernandez and fellow Japanese Shoma Uno — runner-up to Hanyu at the 2017 world championships — are among those lurking, while China’s Jin Boyang could also provide a threat.
Hanyu’s coach Brian Orser gave the skater’s legion of fans a boost earlier this week by promising he would be firing on all cylinders.
Hanyu is expected to train for the first time in Pyeongchang on Monday evening, according to Japanese Olympic officials.