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Figure skating legend Hanyu beats injury to defend Olympic gold

Yuzuru Hanyu performs in the men's figure skating free program at the Gangneung Ice Arena at the 2018 Winter Olympics in South Korea, on Feb. 17, 2018. (Mainichi)

Overcoming a November 2017 injury to his right ankle, figure skating star Yuzuru Hanyu held onto his title of king of the ice in the men's figure skating free program at the Pyeongchang Olympic Games on Feb. 17, and enshrined himself in figure skating lore by capturing his second consecutive Olympic gold.

Not satisfied with simply reigning on the ice at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics, Hanyu has continued to push himself to further heights over the last four years. He has shaken the figure skating world by continuing to challenge himself with the sport's most difficult techniques, planting himself firmly as the skater to beat in the men's competition.

Hanyu first fell in love with the Olympics when watching the Salt Lake City Games in 2002. Russian figure skaters Alexei Yagudin and Evgeny Plyushchenko performed one quadruple spin after another in a life-or-death performance battle that earned them gold and silver medals, respectively. For Hanyu, the Olympics became a battle ground into which he poured all the techniques he had mastered without holding anything back.

Hanyu loves to jump, but he is also skilled at performing spins. He is widely acknowledged as a strong all-around competitor, but what got him chosen by the Japan Skating Federation to join its national program to polish aspiring figure skaters in Nobeyama, Nagano Prefecture, was his sense of rhythm. Hanyu showed the federation his incredible skill born out of lessons off the ice in eurhythmics-based dancing carefully timed to music.

At the time, Hanyu couldn't land a jump well, tumbling to the ground over and over again. Still, he "had mastered the basics of how to jump, so there was expectation that he would become a fine skater in the future," recalled one skating world insider who had watched Hanyu then. Shoichiro Tsuzuki, who coached the star from when he was a second-grade elementary student all the way up until high school, also said, "From the time that he was a child, (Hanyu) had the balance and feeling necessary for figure skating, as well as the sensitivity needed for the sport."

As for his favorite axel jumps where he has continued to push his limits, when he was a child, Hanyu reportedly used 45 minutes of his 1 hour individual lesson on that jump alone. Once he had mastered the jump, he began to tackle the challenge of the quadruple jump. By the time of the Sochi Winter Olympics, he had become able to land a quadruple salchow and a quad toe loop. Hanyu then mastered a quad loop in 2016, and then a quad lutz in 2017. Donning a harness used for training, Hanyu even worked on the most difficult jump -- the quadruple axel, with a total of four and a half spins midair.

Believing that "beyond one wall is yet another" to climb, Hanyu has progressed while pushing the limits of possibility. His dream is still to be the first to successfully land the quadruple axel. While he continues to worry about his knees, ankles and hips, which he has injured many times on his quest for the axel, he isn't about to give up hope yet.

In 2002 in Salt Lake City, Alexei Yagudin performed a flawless short program and free skate all while doing quadruple jumps, carving his name into the ranks of figure skating legends. Now, Hanyu himself has also become a legend.

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