Olympics: Hanyu fired by cut-throat competition to break Japan's duck

Gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu not only claimed Japan's first title of the 2014 Winter Games on Friday night, Feb 15, 2014, but their first ever men's title in figure skating ahead of the favourite Patrick Chan of Canada.. -- PHOTO: REUTERS
Gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu not only claimed Japan's first title of the 2014 Winter Games on Friday night, Feb 15, 2014, but their first ever men's title in figure skating ahead of the favourite Patrick Chan of Canada.. -- PHOTO: REUTERS

SOCHI (AFP) - Teenager Yuzuru Hanyu has finally broken the ice for figure skating powerhouse Japan to put them top of the men's podium at a Winter Olympics in Sochi.

The 19-year-old not only claimed Japan's first title of the 2014 Winter Games on Friday night, Feb 15, 2014, but their first ever men's title in figure skating ahead of the favourite Patrick Chan of Canada.

Although he initially thought he had blown his gold medal hopes after falling twice in the free skating final it was enough to seal his first major title after setting a world record score in the short programme the previous night.

It was a first gold after teammate Daisuke Takahashi, 27, took their first men's figure skating medal with a bronze in Vancouver.

And Hanyu believes that the intense competition among Japanese skaters has helped to power the sport.

Their three men finished in the top ten in Sochi - Tatsuki Machida in fifth just ahead of Takahashi.

"There's lot of competition at Japanese nationals," said Hanyu, who claimed his second national title in December ahead of Machida.

"Our nationals are so hard, so I was thinking 'this is going to be the same as nationals'," of his strategy coming to Sochi.

It was the second gold for Japan in figure skating after Shizuka Arakawa took the women's title at the 2006 Turin Games.

Midori Ido was the first to medal for Japan at an Olympics with her silver in 1992 Albertville, and Mao Asada, who will compete in the women's event next week, won silver in Vancouver.

"We have so many competitive skaters, I believe. We're always competing against each other, that's one of the reasons," said Takahashi.

The 27-year-old believes that working in conjunction with foreign coaches and choreographers has also helped.

Takahashi works with Russian Nikolai Morozov and Canadian Lori Nichol in addition to his Japanese coaches.

Hanyu trains in Toronto with Brian Orser and a strong team which includes former US world champion Jeffrey Buttle, former Canadian ice dancer Tracy Wilson and four-time world champion Kurt Browning.

Machida's choreographer is Swiss Stephane Lambiel, a two-time world champion and Olympic silver medallist.

"The technical ability of the Japanese coaches is very high but when it comes to artistic points the overseas coaches are much better," said Takahashi.

"We exchange training between us, to try to skate better and improve artistry and expression, that's why we are getting better and better."

Orser, a two-time Olympic silver medallist for Canada, admitted he had been overwhelmed by the pressure cooker atmosphere surrounding the nationals in Saitama, where the worlds will be held in March.

"When I went to the Japanese nationals and I saw the way Yuzuru handled that... because it's unbelievable, the media, the fans, the support for Daisuke, fans who have been following him for a long time.

"That's way the sport is so big in Japan because of people like Mao and Daisuke.

"They have this huge fan base (and for Yuzuru) going out and skating as really not the favourite, we're getting used to it.

"I said to Yuzuru 'if you can handle this intense pressure then the Olympics is going to be... the same'.

"I'm not going to say it's easier, because it's never easier. I was proud of him to see how he handled that."