Updated: Saturday, 15 February 2014 16:26 | By Agence France-Presse

Disaster survivors rejoice in Hanyu's gold

Survivors of the 2011 earthquake and tsunami disaster on Saturday hailed Yuzuru Hanyu, their local hero, after the Japanese teenager won Olympic figure skating gold.

Disaster survivors rejoice in Hanyu's gold

Pedestrians read a newspaper report on Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, who captured the gold medal in the men's Figure Skating competition Sochi, in Tokyo on February 15, 2014 - by Kazuhiro Nogi

The 19-year-old claimed Japan's first title of the 2014 Winter Games on Friday ahead of three-time world champion Patrick Chan after the free skating final.

Hanyu, born and raised in the disaster-hit city of Sendai, also became the first Japanese man to win an Olympic figure skating gold and the youngest Olympic men's champion in 66 years.

Some 1,000 students and teachers gathered before dawn to watch the action from Sochi at Tohoku High School, Hanyu's alma mater, in Sendai, Miyagi prefecture, where he also belonged to the school's figure skating club.

Miyagi is one of the three northeastern prefectures hit hard by the massive quake and tsunami, which left more than 18,500 dead and triggered the world's worst nuclear accident since 1986 Chernobyl disaster.

"The ice skate rink was damaged by the earthquake and he was forced to suspend his training for six months," said Kazuya Igarashi, 68, principal of the school, according to Jiji Press.

"With the strength of sport, he can give power to the people in the affected area," said Igarashi, who also managed the school's skating team.

Wakaba Saito, an 18-year-old student in the skating team, told Jiji following the public broadcast of the final: "I prayed for his success as he looked nervous at first. I was moved and felt great."

Hanyu experienced the quake on March 11, 2011, while he was in training at the skating rink, which was then closed for months due to the damage. He and his family were forced to stay in a shelter after his home was also destroyed.

"As an Olympic gold medallist ... I think I can do something for the recovery from the disaster," Hanyu told reporters in Sochi. "This is the beginning of of the goal."

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