Yuzuru Hanyu is the first man to enter an Olympics as the reigning gold medalist and reigning world champion since Dick Button did so in 1952.
It’s yet another impressive feat from Hanyu, who topped the field in 2014 to become the youngest Olympic gold medalist since Button.
Hanyu was also Japan’s first-ever men’s Olympic gold medalist. He has two world championship titles and was the first man to win four consecutive Grand Prix Final titles.
This Olympic season has been the most challenging for Hanyu yet. He opened his season at the Autumn Classic, where he earned silver behind his training mate and rival, Spain’s Javier Fernandez. At his first Grand Prix assignment in Russia, Hanyu finished second behind American rival Nathan Chen. Hanyu was set to compete on home ice at the Grand Prix in Japan but injured himself in warm-up, and doctors advised him to withdraw. He subsequently missed the Grand Prix Final and Japan’s national championships.
Later, it was revealed that Hanyu damaged ligaments in his right ankle and was off the ice for a month. He recuperated at his Toronto training base and returned to training and jumping in January.
He set his competitive return for the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics. The Japanese Skating Federation announced ahead of time that Hanyu would not participate in the team event. Hanyu had the most time to rest and – compared to some of his rivals – he already owns a solid foundation of Olympic experience.
His coach, two-time Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser, revealed limited information about Hanyu’s condition before arriving in PyeongChang.
“The important thing is that we have these little mini goals on his recovery,” Orser told NBCOlympics.com. “Starting two and a half months ago, we sat down and I said, ‘This is possible. You can get healed.’ We’ve taken it slow, but it’s been productive. It’s doable. Time was on our side, but we have to make every day count.”
Both before and after the injury to Hanyu’s ankle, legendary Russian figure skater Yevgeny Plushenko predicted Hanyu would successfully defend his gold medal in PyeongChang.
In October, Plushenko said to NBCOlympics.com that Hanyu simply was “the best.”
“He doesn’t need five quads, six quads,” Plushenko continued. “He need[s] three quadruples. Maybe two Sal[chows] and one toe loop. And that’s it.”
More recently, while Plushenko was a spectator at the European Championships in Moscow, Russia, he told the AP: “It’s going to be the most interesting Olympics in history. Yuzuru Hanyu, Nathan Chen, Shoma Uno, Javier Fernandez, our athletes. It’s going to be really interesting. And there are leaders who are injured, and whether they can get healthy in time. It's going to be very interesting. Lots of suspense, the Olympics are going to be crazy.”