Hanyu rises to Olympic gold

— -- SOCHI, Russia -- Asked what his gold medal means for his devastated hometown of Sendai, Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu paused and said it was a difficult question that he wasn't sure he should answer. He did so anyway.

"Maybe I am a gold medalist at these Olympics, but this medal can't really help out the recovery in that region," he said through an interpreter. "I still feel helpless here. I still feel like I can't really help. But because I am a gold medalist, maybe I will be able to do something for the recovery. Perhaps there is something I could do going forward."

Perhaps. After all, he's already pulled off an amazing accomplishment. He is Japan's first male gold-medal skater, is just 19 years old, and already has an autobiography.

Hanyu became the first skater to pass the century mark in scoring with his short program Thursday, but his free skate Friday was not nearly so impressive. He fell on his opening quad and fell again on a triple flip. He also wobbled on a triple axel-double axel sequence. His overall score was 280.09, not out of range for world champion Patrick Chan, who entered the day in second place.

Chan, however, skated poorly as well, and settled for the silver medal, continuing the Canadian curse of never quite getting gold in Olympic men's figure skating. They have won five silvers and four bronzes.

"I find it funny that Canadian skaters have been labeled as cursed just because we can't achieve gold at this one event," Chan said. "We always remember Kurt Browning, we always remember Elvis Stojko, we always remember Brian Orser. We always remember Toller Cranston. We remember these greats who made history and I'm going to say the same thing. You can't change the fact we have multiple successful Canadian men who changed the sport of figure skating."

Hanyu and Chan weren't alone by any stretch -- almost everyone in the final group struggled. (Hmmmm, perhaps Evgeny Plushenko should not have withdrawn even if he was hurting.) That included American Jason Brown, who skated last with an excellent chance to take the bronze. He stumbled as well and fell.

"I really want to take this whole experience, this whole year. I learned from every single step of the way," Brown said. "That means so much to me. As a19-year-old looking forward, I want to be in this for another eight years. I want to get another two Olympics and have this experience again."

"I was really happy to see Jason finish so high," coach Frank Carroll said. "He's a beautiful skater and I think next year he'll have a quad. He's a very determined boy. He's very disciplined and very obedient. I'm sure his coach will get him the quad."

The poor performances allowed Kazakhstan's Denis Ten to move up to third and become his country's first Olympic medalist in figure skating.

Carroll, Ten's coach, made that achievement sound even more impressive, given that the skater's feet are in such bad shape. "They're not even and not flat. To get a pair [of skates] to fit is a total bummer," Carroll said. "He has a left skate on from one pair and a right skate on from another pair."

Having skates that fit was the least of Hanyu's concerns three years ago.

Hanyu was 16 years old and skating at his rink in Sendai when the devastating 2011 earthquake rocked the city. He fled the rink without removing his skates and spent four days in an evacuation center. He was forced to change rinks due to the damage to the city and tsunami, eventually moving to Toronto, where he began working under Orser, now a coach.

"We have to look at it as mission accomplished," Orser said. "We were here last year for the Grand Prix final. We went for a walk along the sea and we were just getting to know each other, and we started talking about Sochi coming up and he said, 'I want to win the Olympics. And I want to win the next Olympics.'

"I said, 'Wow. That's amazing. Let's get to work then.' "

It is amazing after everything Hanyu went through.

"How can I explain this?" Hanyu said. "After the earthquake and the tsunami, I wasn't able to skate. I considered quitting. I really had a handful just making a living to survive."

Hanyu said that 2006 gold medalist Shizuka Arakawa provided him with funding, as did the people of Sendai, the Miyagi prefecture and Japan itself. And well, many more people.

"There are just so many people who supported me. I am so grateful to those people. I have to be grateful to these people. Yes, I am the Olympic champion," he said. "But I am not here only because of myself. I am here because of all the support I received from all around the world.

"How can I say this? By winning tonight, I was able to give something back. I returned the favor."