SOCHI, Russia — Sometimes an Olympic gold medalist is more survivor than anything else.
Yuzuru Hanyu knows the feeling.
Not only did Hanyu make it difficult on himself, he thought he lost all chance at the title Friday night with a mediocre free skate at the Sochi Olympics. Instead, thanks to the mistakes of Patrick Chan and others, Hanyu became Japan’s first gold medalist in Olympic men’s figure skating.
“Negative feelings were brewing inside of me,” Hanyu said. “It was difficult to keep with the performance with all that in my head.
“I thought the gold medal was not in my hands.”
It wound up there mainly because his nearly 4-point lead after the short program was enough to overcome his shortcomings in the long.
Also the first Asian man to win Olympic gold, Hanyu fell on his opening jump, a quad salchow, and crashed on his third, a triple flip. That left plenty of room for Canada’s Chan to skate through to the top of the podium, but he made three errors in a watered-down program to finish second.
“I had that chance and it slipped out of my hands,” Chan said.
Canada has never won the event, either.
Kazakhstan’s Denis Ten, the world silver medalist, won bronze in Sochi in a final that was a two-man showdown between Hanyu, 19, and three-time world champion Chan, 23.
Few skaters performed close to their peak on a second consecutive night of competition. Most of them appeared fatigued, particularly at the end of their 41/2-minute routines. It was one of the sloppiest men’s Olympic programs in memory.
“I visualized this evening as one great skate after another,” said Brian Orser, Hanyu’s coach. “It kind of didn’t happen. It was one of those things. Nobody got the momentum going.”
Chan skated directly after Hanyu with a chance to do what such renowned Canadian men as Donald Jackson, Kurt Browning, Elvis Stojko and Orser could not. But he wasn’t sharp either.
“We all had rough skates,” Chan said. “These competitions are about who makes the least mistakes. I had one too many mistakes.”
Just minutes before, when Hanyu finished, kneeling, he laid two hands on the ice for a long time, thinking he had blown it.
“I was so nervous and I was so tired,” he said. “But I was surprised (to win). I was not happy with my program.”
Orser told him not to fret, that the competition wasn’t over. And when Chan came up short, the gold was headed to Japan.
Asked if he thought he would win, Hanyu shook his head.
“No, I was so sad,” he said.
And he seemed stunned when he saw Chan’s scores and realized they weren’t enough.
Hanyu skated around the rink draped in a Japanese flag after the flower ceremony. Around the Iceberg rink were about two dozen banners supporting him and the Japanese team.
Ten, coached by Frank Carroll, who helped Evan Lysacek win the 2010 gold medal, surged from ninth to third with a busy free skate that include three spot-on combination jumps. He won Kazakhstan’s first Olympic figure skating medal.
“This medal is my gift to my country,” said Ten, 20. “I hope this is not the highest achievement of my life.”
American Jason Brown, 19, of Highland Park, Ill., fell from sixth to ninth, earning no points for a triple loop at the end of his program because of a previous false takeoff on an axel that was counted as a jump.
“I went out there and just performed and where I ended up is where I ended up,” Brown said, “but I’m so proud to be in that top 10.”
Four-time U.S. champion Jeremy Abbott, of Aspen, Colo., rallied from 15th to 12th place.
Javier Fernandez, seeking Spain’s first Olympic figure skating medal, struggled and fell from third to fourth. He repeated a triple salchow without putting it in a combination, costing him precious points.
Japan’s Daisuke Takahashi, the 2010 bronze medalist and among the most popular skaters in the event — there were Dice-K signs throughout his cheering section — had a flawed if gorgeously choreographed program to a Beatles medley. He finished sixth, one spot behind countryman Tatsuki Machida.
That gave Japan half of the top six finishers, spectacular for a nation that until 2010 never stepped on the men’s podium.
Not on the ice, of course, was Russian star Evgeni Plushenko. He dropped out before the short program on Thursday night with a back injury.