Gangneung (South Korea) (AFP) – Defending men’s Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu vowed on Tuesday to deliver “a dream performance” in Pyeongchang to reward his huge army of adoring fans.
The Japanese rink idol completed his first full practice session — quads and all — at the Gangneung Ice Arena where on Friday his quest begins to become the first skater since American Dick Button in 1952 to win back-to-back titles.
With the Sochi 2014 and double world champion’s every move scrutinised by coach Brian Orser and several hundred fans, Hanyu looked lithe and agile on his comeback after a lengthy injury layoff that almost destroyed his Korean adventure.
“It’s been three months since I got injured, there were times when I was only able to watch skating, not be able to skate myself, so I’m very grateful to finally be here at the Olympic venue to practise,” the 23-year-old said.
Hanyu was addressing a press conference which could have been mistaken for downtown Tokyo in rush hour such was the size of the media scrum.
As the clock ticked towards his arrival, a hush fell on the room.
Then, with every lense focused on the press conference door, it opened and the skating deity took his seat behind the only name on the table — Yuzuru Hanyu — accompanied by a cacophony of camera lenses.
With his floppy fringe falling over his eyes he surveyed the scene before him and said: “I understand not many skaters can be surrounded by so many press like me now.
“With your coverage they will be listening and looking at me and I feel so grateful that so many people will be watching me skate.
“So many people are waiting for me to skate, I want to give them the performance to make their wait worth it.
“This is my dream stage and I want to give my dream performance.”
– Dark days –
US quad prodigy Nathen Chen, Europe’s six-time champion Javier Fernandez, Sochi silver medallist Patrick Chan, China’s Jin Boyang and his fellow Japanese Shoma Uno are all lying in wait.
It remains to be seen if Hanyu can get back to top form in time after damaging ankle ligaments during training.
His hopes of an Olympic double were dealt a dreadful blow when he crash-landed a quadruple lutz in November.
There were dark days, he recalled.
“After the injury my ankle wasn’t moving, after two months I was still having difficulty.
“I wondered if I’d be able to recover completely, but I can skate now so that’s all in the past.
“Thankfully I’m here to give you good news, not bad news.”
The serious setback inevitably played havoc with his Pyeongchang preparations.
“There are many jumps I haven’t performed yet, but I still have a few more days so I can peak at the right time.”
The sports star known as “Yuzu” was on the rink for around 40 minutes, constantly conferring with his coach Orser as he went through the motions, executing two quad salchows and a pair of quad toe loops.
At the end of his practice he bowed to all four corners of the rink to polite applause — a world away from the tumultuous reception he can expect on Friday.