Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu made history not once but twice at PyeongChang 2018. By winning the men’s figure skating singles gold, he became the first athlete in 66 years to retain the title and also won the thousandth Olympic Winter Games gold medal event. In the women’s competition, meanwhile, the honours went to 15-year-old Alina Zagitova (OAR), who won a high-quality duel with compatriot and fellow teenager Evgenia Medvedeva.
Hanyu retains title and wins a landmark gold
In securing gold at the Gangneung Ice Arena on 17 February, 23-year-old Hanyu became the first man to win back-to-back Olympic singles figure skating titles since the USA's Dick Button in 1952. Taking second place behind him was fellow countryman Shoma Uno, a runner-up to Hanyu at the 2017 World Championships and a double medallist at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Innsbruck 2012. Spain's Javier Fernandez, a six-time European champion, finished third to claim his country's first ever Winter Games medal on ice.
Having impressed in the short programme to take a comfortable lead into the free, Hanyu did not disappoint his legion of fans, kicking off with a risky quadruple salchow and quadruple toe loop combination. The Sochi 2014 champion followed up with a triple axel before rounding off with a quadruple salchow and quadruple toe loop, which he missed. That slight hiccup did not stop the Japanese skater, who is coached by two-time Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser, from racking up the second-highest points total of the free skate (206.17) and compile a winning overall total of 317.85 points, over ten points more than Uno.
"It's my happiest day ever as a figure skater," said the two-time Olympic champion afterwards, who was sidelined for the last two months of 2017 with an ankle injury. "My tears come straight from the heart. I'm so happy I'm lost for words."
Nathan Chen of the USA had the crowd off their feet with his free skate routine, packing it with six quadruple jumps, five of which he landed to perfection to score a career best of 215.08 points – nearly nine more than Hanyu – and jump up from 17th place to fifth.
20-year-old Uno moved up from third to second with his solid free routine, relegating Fernandez – the 2015 and 2016 world champion, who placed fourth at Sochi 2014 – to bronze. It was only Spain's fourth Winter Games medal, the previous three having all come on snow: Francisco Fernandez-Ochoa's gold in the men's slalom at Sapporo 1972; Fernandez-Ochoa's younger sister Blanca's bronze in the women's slalom at Albertville 1992 and Regino Hernández's bronze in the men's snowboard cross at PyeongChang 2018.
Teen sensation Zagitova strikes gold
The battle for the women's singles title pitched two Olympic Athlete from Russia (OAR) skaters and training partners against each other: 15-year-old Zagitova – the newly crowned European champion – and 18-year-old Medvedeva, the two-time reigning world champion.
Zagitova scored a world record 82.92 points in the short programme and clinched the gold when she and Medvedeva received exactly the same marks in a thrilling denouement to the free skate. Scoring 239.57 points overall, Zagitova took the gold by just 1.31 points from Medvedeva. The bronze went to Canada's Kaetlyn Osmond, who totalled 231.02 points with her two routines.
The first of the three onto the ice in the free skate, Zagitova produced a flawless routine, opening up with a triple Lutz and then landing another six triple jumps to score 156.65 points, seemingly putting herself out of reach.
"I was pleasantly surprised when I saw the score," she later said. "I'm happy I got the better of my nerves and skated calmly. I knew I didn't have any margin for error. Over these last 10 years, I have had falls, high moments and many injuries. And I've gone through this and made it to the Olympics. All the work I have done has not been for nothing."
Third after the short, Osmond would stay there after making an error at the start of her free routine, which left Medvedeva as the only skater who could deprive Zagitova of the gold. Skating to the soundtrack of the film Anna Karenina, Medvedeva knew she had to produce something special and she did not disappoint, conjuring up a triple flip, triple Lutz and a triple flip-triple loop combination to match Zagitova's score. Though the judges would place her first in the free, Medvedeva had to settle for the silver.
"I felt like Anna Karenina in the film," commented Medvedeva. "I gave it my all and left everything I have on the ice. I have no regrets. I felt like I was in a bubble for the very first time. I felt like those four minutes belonged not to me but to the whole world."
Osmond's bronze was Canada's fourth figure skating medal of PyeongChang 2018, following the nation's victory in the team event, Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir's gold in the ice dance, and Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford's pair skating bronze.