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Why Japan is in thrall to figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu

Japan is in thrall to Yuzuru Hanyu following the successful defense...

Posted: Feb. 20, 2018 1:39 PM
Updated: Feb. 20, 2018 1:39 PM

Japan is in thrall to Yuzuru Hanyu following the successful defense of his Olympic single skating title on Saturday, after he became the first male figure skater since 1952 to win back-to-back skating golds.

"The people are fascinated by his personality, his performance, and his charm," Yasuo Saito, vice president of the Japan Olympic Committee, told CNN Sport's Coy Wire.

Yuzuru Hanyu won Japan's first gold at the Winter Games

Japan "filled with happiness" over Hanyu's success

The Japanese figure skater built on his stellar performance in the short program on Friday and got the second-highest score in the free skating event Saturday, despite missing two jumps.

Hanyu joins Sweden's Gillis Grafstrom (1920, 1924, 1928), Austria's Karl Schafer (1932 and 1936) and the USA's Dick Button (1948 and 1952) as the only men to win successive Olympic gold medals in this event.

He also becomes the third Japanese athlete to win gold at two different Olympic Winter Games, after Kenji Ogiwara and Takanori Kono in the Nordic combined team event in 1992 and 1994.

Akiko Tamura, from the Japanese Figure Skating Magazine, thinks that it's his confidence that really makes Hanyu stand out. It is "very impressive, and unusual -- especially as a Japanese skater," she says.

'Grabbed hearts'

The audience at Saturday's event at the Gangneung Ice Arena was essentially a home crowd, full of fans waving Japanese flags.

People were cheering, praying and crying -- all for the 23-year-old Hanyu.

At the end of his routine, Winnie the Pooh toys rained down on the ice, as Hanyu's supporters threw them from the stands -- knowing that the skater considers the A.A. Milne character a lucky charm.

Back in Japan, CNN's Tokyo producer Yoko Wakatsuki reported that Japanese social media was flooded with "tens of thousands of messages filled with screen grabs, old pics and illustrations of teddy bears", adding that the "nation is filled with happiness."

Even Japan's Prime Minister Shinzo Abe has caught the bug, taking to Twitter to congratulate him. Abe posted a photo of him with Hanyu, writing: "Your wonderful performance grabbed our hearts."

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