By Elaine Lies
GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Defending men's figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu on Monday took several glides towards emulating a 66-year-old record by winning back-to-back Olympic gold medals with his first public appearance since a training injury last November.
The wildly popular Hanyu was forced to drop out of the Grand Prix series after a hard fall while practicing a quad Lutz, sustaining an ankle ligament injury that has kept him out of competition since.
Coach Brian Orser has repeatedly said Hanyu, 23, is back at full strength and landing quads, but with no sign of him on the ice questions have been rife about whether he was up to taking on rivals including American jumping ace Nathan Chen and training partner Javier Fernandez from Spain.
The last man to win consecutive Olympic golds was American Dick Button in 1952.
But on Monday, a day after arriving in South Korea, Hanyu took to the practice rink in the Gangneung Ice Arena.
Gliding across the ice during a 10-minute warm-up session, Hanyu tested the edges of his skates and circled slowly, every so often performing a light, one-rotation jump amid a barrage of camera clicks.
As the music for his short program - Chopin Ballade No. 1 - began to play, he executed a few moves of his routine, skated to the center of the ice, bowed and left the rink. But even that was enough for one Japanese wire service to issue an alert.
To reporters he said only "I look forward to your support" before disappearing.
On Sunday, when Hanyu arrived in South Korea, Hanyu said he was looking forward to competing.
"I've had to miss a lot of events, and that was really frustrating for me. I'm glad to finally be here," he said.
Asked about the chances of a golden repeat, he said: "I'd be lying to myself if I said I wasn't thinking about this. I do want to win back-to-back golds, but that isn't my only goal."
Hanyu, whose fans follow him around the world shouting "Yuzu!" and showering the ice with flowers and stuffed animals, is set for a longer practice on Tuesday.
The men's singles competition begins on Friday with the short program to be decided on Saturday.
(Reporting by Elaine Lies, editing by Ed Osmond)