The 19-year-old notched a world record score of 101.45 to lead after the short programme on Thursday night, but two early mistakes in his free skating routine yesterday looked like it might cost him dearly.
Canada’s Patrick Chan, next on the ice, was set to take advantage but the three-times world champion fell once and also stumbled during a nervy routine which left him with silver, as Denis Ten of Kazakhstan finished with a bronze.
It was Japan’s first gold at Sochi 2014 and their first in men’s figure skating, the prospect of which Hanyu admitted was on his mind beforehand.
He said: “I was trying not to think about winning a gold medal, but I couldn’t deflect the pressure, which was massive.
“I’m so proud of this feat. The Olympics is so wild and unpredictable. I’ve never been this nervous for a competition in my entire life. I was beyond nervous. I couldn’t sleep at all and I didn’t feel well physically.
“I’m upset with the performance I had, but I left everything I had out there.”
Hanyu, who had two points deducted, finished with a combined score of 280.09, while Chan recorded 275.62 with Ten on 255.10 as he won Kazakhstan’s first medal of the Games and their first ever in figure skating.
Hanyu was still coming to terms with the realisation that Chan finished second.
“Oh my God, I’m so surprised,” he said. “I can’t find the words.
“It was such a difficult programme for me and I felt rough, physically. I’m just shocked.”
Chan claimed that his mistakes were down to the fact that “we’re all human”, but denied his performance was affected by the pressure of doing Canada proud. “There was a lot of pressure to win the gold for Canada, but I really wanted to do it for myself,” he said.
“My plan was to take all the elements one thing at a time.
“I wanted to focus on myself, but I made several little mistakes. Figure skating is hard.
“Feeling the medal slip away was definitely a lingering thought. I’m disappointed, but life goes on.”
Meanwhile, in the speed skating, Elise Christie will look to put her 500m heartbreak behind her when she takes part in the heats of the 1500m today with a view to being in the mix once again when the medals are decided tomorrow. The Scot was deemed to have caused a crash in Thursday’s 500m final and, despite finishing in silver medal position, was relegated to eighth place.