Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu stole the show at the Gangneung Ice Arena on 16 February, capping his comeback from injury with a quite brilliant short programme as the men’s figure skating competition got underway.
The defending Olympic champion hypnotised a delirious crowd, as he reasserted his dominance of men's figure skating following a five-month absence.
Hanyu executed all his jumps and spins with exceptional technique and grace, earning him first place and 111.68 points, just 1.04 away from his personal best and world record.
Going into the decisive free programme on 17 February he looked well placed to become the first man in 66 years to win back-to-back Olympic figure skating golds.
Happy to be back
I just felt happy to skate and be on the ice again. I'm satisfied with every element and I'm really happy because I was really the feeling the music.Yuzuru Hanyu Japan
For figure skating fans from Japan and beyond, Hanyu’s return to the Olympic stage was always going to be one of the highlights of the Games.
As has become the custom whenever the 23-year-old performs, as soon as he completed his skate fans threw flowers and cuddly toys onto the ice in tribute.
"I'm not quite sure how this got started," said a bemused Hanyu speaking about the fan ritual ahead of his short track programme.
“Mainly I think it's because I've always kept a box of tissues decorated with a stuffed [Winnie the] Pooh at rinkside, and when I was really little I had a cap with Pooh on it. The fans just started doing it.”
Once the rain of bears, which numbered in the dozens, had ceased, children skated onto the ice to gather them up. Hanyu said he would arrange for them to be donated locally.
Hanyu fans, especially those from Japan, are known for their passionate devotion to their hero, and follow him around the globe to see him compete. Cries of “Yuzu!” are now a familiar refrain at the top competitions.
Their enthusiasm during Hanyu’s short programme was particularly vocal, since a fall in training had kept him out of competition since October 2017. Based on that performance the Japanese skater looks to be back to his scintillating best, and well placed to retain his crown.