When Yuzuru Hanyu arrived in South Korea last week, he vowed to make his much-anticipated return from an ankle injury "worth the wait" ahead of his men's figure skating title defense at the Pyeongchang Winter Games.
Hanyu made good on his promise Saturday, becoming the first man in more than six decades to win consecutive gold medals, despite his "serious" injury preventing him from being able to execute his full arsenal of quads.
The 23-year-old held onto his lead from the short program and led Japan to a 1-2 finish ahead of Olympic debutant Shoma Uno, captivating Gangneung Ice Arena with a free skate packed with power, precision and panache.
"I can't say that it was the best performance of my career but I am so happy," said Hanyu, who had not competed since October.
"One thing I can say for sure is that I am back again and I was able to win the gold medal again at the Olympic Games, the competition I aspire to the most. I am truly proud of this achievement."
Hanyu has been plagued with injuries since the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia, when he became the first Japanese to win men's figure skating gold.
And damage to right ankle ligaments sustained falling on a quad lutz during practice for November's NHK Trophy looked like it might derail his quest for more Olympic gold. In the end, Hanyu won the race to be fit for Pyeongchang, although he had to leave the quad lutz out of his program to avoid risking more damage.
"I think I just had to do what I could do at this moment," said Hanyu. "That was my feeling because my injuries (to the right ankle) were more severe than I thought and I could not practice to the extent that I wanted to."
"Of course, I tried to explore what was possible as a skater. If you are a protagonist of a cartoon, I think the setting here was too well made."
"But now I have won the gold medal. I have been cheered by so many people and so many people have remembered my name and got more familiar with figure skating, so I am very happy. As a human being, these are really extraordinary circumstances."
One injury that springs to mind was at the Cup of China in the fall of 2014, when Hanyu was involved in a sickening collision with Chinese skater Yan Han during practice.
Yet Hanyu battled through to win the silver medal and was back in action a few weeks later at the NHK Trophy, a testament to the steely resilience he is now so well known for.
"I have had a slew of injuries looking back over the last four years, but for sports and figure skating as a sport, I wanted to have courage and be bold enough to challenge myself," Hanyu told the post-ceremony press conference.
(Ankle injury last November)
"The fact that I am now sitting in the middle of the table speaking to the press is probably the happiest moment for me (over the last four years)."
Hanyu is also a two-time world champion but suggested he may skip the world championships in next month in Milan.
"I don't know yet (about the worlds). The injury to my right ankle is not fully healed, so I think I really pushed it somewhat hard for this competition."
"There were some jumps and elements that I could not perform but I actually forced myself to do so during the competition, so I would like to think about it (competing in the worlds)."
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