'He's come!' Hanyu mania hits Beijing Games as skater finally arrives
Japanese figure skating idol Yuzuru Hanyu finally arrived in Beijing on Sunday to start his quest for a third Olympic gold, his team said, whipping his Chinese fans into a social media frenzy.
The defending champion's arrival -- just two days before he competes -- is far from out of character: he also missed the opening ceremony and skating team event at the Pyeongchang Games in 2018.
But his absence on the practice rink has been a source of fevered discussion amongst his fans online, with some anguishing over when he would make an appearance.
Soon after news of his arrival, he was a top-trending topic on China's Twitter-like Weibo with at least 220 million views of hashtags relating to him.
"The fans' cherished Hanyu has come! He's come, he's come!" read one post, sharing pictures of what appeared to be the 27-year-old in a suit surrounded by airport staff in full personal protective equipment.
The Japanese Olympic Committee confirmed in an email that "he safely arrived" on Sunday -- adding that he would not be talking to the media that day.
The men's single figure skating event starts on Tuesday, with most other competitors already long installed and training in Olympic facilities.
Jackie Wong, figure skating analyst at Rocker Skating, said it was unusual for a skater to choose not to practise on the competition rink.
"(But) it's Yuzuru Hanyu," he told AFP.
"He does whatever he wants and he has done plenty in his career to basically be like, 'I'll walk to the beat of my own drummer.'"
Despite his huge popularity at home and abroad, Hanyu remains something of an enigma, rarely granting interviews and having no social media presence.
Hanyu has promised to perform a quadruple axel -- a move no skater has ever landed in competition -- at the Winter Games.