TOKYO (Reuters) - Japan’s Olympic team returned to a hero’s welcome on Monday after its best-ever showing at a Winter Games, with 13 medals - more than half by women - beating a previous record of 10 two decades ago.
Fans came out in large numbers at the airport in Narita, east of Tokyo, waving placards and banners saying “Thank you for gold medal” and “Fly High Yuzu”, in reference to figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu.
“I took the bullet train from Kobe (western Japan) to see them. It was worth a trip,” said a middle-aged woman.
The showing was a welcome boost for Japan, with Tokyo hosting the Summer Games in 2020.
Hanyu took gold in the men’s singles competition, reasserting his dominance after being off the ice for weeks having injured his ankle in a training fall in November.
“It was tough to win a second consecutive Olympics. The fact that I won with support of everyone made this gold medal even more valuable,” Hanyu told a joint news conference.
The win, ahead of compatriot Shoma Uno, who took silver, made the 23-year-old Hanyu the first man in 66 years to defend an Olympic title.
Speed skater Nana Takagi won gold in the women’s mass start for her second gold at Pyeongchang after an earlier win in the team pursuit.
Her younger sister, Miho, who was part of that team, also won silver and bronze in the 1,500 and 1,000 meters speed skating, while Nao Kodaira took gold in the 500 meters.
“I have put my life on skating since I missed Sochi Olympics four years ago. I wanted to share courage with everyone, so I’m happy that I could do that even a little bit,” Miho said.
After Kodaira’s win over South Korean defending champion Lee Sang Hwa, the Japanese athlete hugged and comforted her rival in a show of friendship and sportsmanship between athletes from the two countries, whose ties remain strained due to a shared past in which Japan colonized the Korean peninsula from 1910-1945.
“I realized that we can spend a wonderful time in life if everyone extends a circle of friendship. These 17 days have become an unforgettable moment,” Kodaira said.
Reporting by Linda Sieg and Tetsushi Kajimoto; Editing by Amlan Chakraborty