Updated: 02/15/2014 06:46 | By Agence France-Presse

Hanyu emerges from earthquake horror to win gold

Japanese teenager Yuzuru Hanyu put the horrors of an earthquake which destroyed his hometown behind him on Friday when he became the first Japanese man to win the Olympic men's figure skating title.


Hanyu emerges from earthquake horror to win gold

Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu celebrates after the Men's Figure Skating Free Program at the Iceberg Skating Palace during the Sochi Winter Olympics on February 14, 2014 - by Yuri Kadobnov

It may not have been the rousing performance that many had been expecting after his dazzling displays in the team and the individual short programmes, where he became the first skater to pass the 100-point mark. 

He fell twice during his free skate to Nino Rota's "Romeo and Juliet" but it was enough to take the gold ahead of three-time world champion Patrick Chan to become, at 19 years, the youngest man in 66 years to win Olympic gold.

The youngster from Sendai admitted he had come a long way since his hometown was destroyed by a devastating earthquake and tsunami in March 2011 to standing on the top of the podium at the Iceberg Skating Palace. 

And Hanyu said he hoped that his gold could be used to help his compatriots who are still suffering the after-effects of the earthquake. 

"I worked really hard to get a gold medal," said an emotional Hanyu. 

"But from here on as a gold medallist at the Olympics I think this is going to be the starting point for what I can do for the recovery.

"With regard to the tsunami and earthquake it's difficult for me to even touch upon that," he explained. 

"Now I'm an Olympic champion and I think that makes it even more difficult to speak about any of that. 

- 'I thought about quitting' -

"After the earthquake and tsunami I wasn't able to skate and I really seriously thought about quitting because I just had my hands full making a living, to stay alive. So many people helped me out and now I'm here today." 

He said he had been helped a lot by Japan's only other Olympic figure skating gold medallist -- 2006 women's champion Shizuka Arakawa -- who grew up in Sendai.

"Shizuka was skating with me and made a donation to me and that's why I'm here," he said. "A lot of people in Sendai city helped me to be here."

Born on December 7, 1994 in Sendai, Hanyu took up skating at the age of four when he followed his older sister Saya to the rink. 

He attended the same high school as former world and Olympic champion Arakawa and two-time men's world bronze medallist Takeshi Honda. 

He did not immediately like skating, but loved competing. 

"Back then, I used to hate to practice, but I loved competitions with lots of people watching me skating," he recalled in his autobiography "Blue Flames" published in April 2012. 

But his love for the sport grew after winning his first trophy aged six.

"I was totally pretending to be just like (Yevgeny) Plushenko. And I was smiling with no front teeth!" he recalled 

In 2010, at the age of 15, he became the fourth Japanese man to win the world junior title, and the following season moved up to senior level where he was competed against his idols including Daisuke Takahashi and Chan. 

- Disaster totally changed my values -

But disaster struck in March 2011 when Hanyu was practicing at his home rink in Sendai when the earthquake struck.

A terrified Hanyu was training when the earthquake started, and he and his family spent a few nights in an evacuation centre. 

"The disaster totally changed my values," he said. "I even thought I would die at this young age of 16." 

"Now I'm able to skate again even after such a terrifying experience. More than anything else, I want to make every day count now." 

After winning the world bronze in April 2012 he decided to leave his longtime coach and choreographer Nanami Abe and went to train in Toronto with Canadian Brian Orser, who led South Korean superstar Kim Yu-Na to the Olympic's women's title in Vancouver in 2010.

Two skaters have always inspired him the most -- Plushenko and Johnny Weir. He has skated in shows with Plushenko while Weir has designed costumes for him.

In Canada he skates up to four hours a day and takes daily ballet lessons. He has also started to wear masks when practicing to make it harder and to help build his cardio, Orser explained.

His choreographers are former US world champion Jeffrey Buttle, David Wilson and Canada's four-time world champion Kurt Browning.

He set himself up as a contender in Sochi by beating Chan in the Grand Prix final and going on to take a second straight national title amid intense pressure in Saitama. 

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