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Figure Skater Yuzuru Hanyu Takes Another Gold

Feb 17, 2018
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SCOTT SIMON, HOST:

Japan's moment came at the Winter Olympics in South Korea. The country claimed the gold and silver medals in men's figure skating. No podium for the U.S., but all three American skaters did finish in the top 10 because of some last-minute, come-from-behind drama. That's what sports are all about. From Pyeongchang, NPR's Melissa Block reports.

MELISSA BLOCK, BYLINE: This was Japan's time to shine. And shine the team did.

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BLOCK: Japan's main star, the reigning world champion Yuzuru Hanyu, skated his long program with lyric grace, his whippet-thin form lofting into quadruple jumps. It wasn't perfect, but it was plenty.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: First place - Japan.

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #2: (Speaking Korean).

UNIDENTIFIED ANNOUNCER #1: Yuzuru Hanyu.

(CHEERING)

BLOCK: Hanyu also won gold four years ago. And now he's become the first male figure skater to repeat as Olympic champion since 1952. That was American skater Dick Button.

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SIMON: The extra drama came in the athletic form of 18-year-old U.S. skater Nathan Chen, known as the quad king for his jumping prowess. Chen had been favored to win a gold medal, but he tanked in his earlier short program. He was in a miserable 17th place heading into the free skate - or long program. And he was looking for redemption.

(CHEERING)

BLOCK: He got it. Chen shook off the misery and turned in a bravura performance. He landed five quad jumps, an Olympic first. And then - what the heck - he threw in a sixth for good measure.

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NATHAN CHEN: It was sort of an anger thing. It was like, oh, screw it. I'm going to try it. Like, at this point, I literally have nothing to lose. I'll just go for it.

BLOCK: In the end, those six quad jumps vaulted Chen from 17th place to fifth. Not enough for a podium, but a solid measure of redemption. As for his teammates, Vincent Zhou finished sixth, Adam Rippon 10th. As for the gold medalist, understand this. Yuzuru Hanyu is the equivalent of a rock star in Japan, idolized by millions. After his skate, when it was clear he had won, he was emotional, tears streaming down his face.

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YUZURU HANYU: (Speaking Japanese).

BLOCK: Later, he thanked all the people who cheered him on since his childhood. And he made it a point to thank his ankle, saying, you did a good job. Late last year, Hanyu suffered a serious ankle injury, and he's been out of competition ever since. The Gangneung Ice Arena here was Yuzuru Hanyu country. The stands were a sea of Japanese flags. A lot of Hanyu fans came dressed up in Winnie the Pooh costumes. That's because the skater has claimed Pooh as his good luck charm and mascot. And Hanyu is revered not just in Japan.

KATE YANG: He's priceless.

BLOCK: He's priceless.

YANG: Yeah.

BLOCK: I found Kate Yang wearing a jacket lined with yellow fake fur, gold for luck for Hanyu, she explained. She and two friends flew here from China just to see their idol skate. And they were among the hundreds of fans who brought stuffed Pooh bears to throw on the ice after his performance.

YANG: Like, they have a limit on size. So we only can bring, like, small ones - like, easy to throw.

BLOCK: And if there weren't a limit?

YANG: Maybe the big one, a huge one (laughter). Yeah.

BLOCK: A huge one, she said - as big as Yuzuru Hanyu himself. Melissa Block, NPR News, at the Pyeongchang Olympics. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.