Figure skating: After Sochi surprise, Ten returns to Korean roots in Pyeongchang

GANGNEUNG, South Korea (Reuters) - Denis Ten of Kazakhstan could have retired after unexpectedly winning bronze at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. But his desire to return to his Korean roots in Pyeongchang pushed him to overcome debilitating injuries.

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Fans at the Gangneung Ice Arena warmly greeted the 24-year-old during his short program on Friday, some of them waving powder blue and yellow Kazakh flags.

Ten doubled his quad Salchow and triple toeloop, earning 70.12 points. He finished 27th of 30 skaters and did not qualify for the long program taking place on Saturday.

“Everyday I fell asleep in pain, but I would wake up with the hope that it is a day of new achievements, a new fight,” he told reporters. “Unfortunately these hopes did not fulfill themselves today.”

The injury-plagued Ten said he had been training at high intensity only during the last two weeks prior to the Olympics.

He sustained a serious ankle injury last summer, adding to an aching back and hip. He has spent time in a rehabilitation facility in South Korea.

“The last time I was in Korea, I was on crutches,” Ten said. “I didn’t think I would be able to make it here as an active athlete.”

Ten finished 11th at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics. In Sochi four years later, he became the first skater from Kazakhstan to win an Olympic medal.

Ten beat Spain’s Javier Fernandez by just over one point overall in Sochi. But in Pyeongchang, Ten finished well back of the six-time European champion, who was second heading into the free skate.

At the Grand Prix event in Moscow in October last year, Ten finished ninth. A month later he finished eighth at the Grand Prix event in France, and he finished 15th at the Four Continents Cup in Taiwan in January.

Ten said the road to Pyeongchang had been marred with obstacles and complications but that he kept fighting for a chance to skate at the Olympics in his ancestral homeland.

“I know a large number of people who have followed my success over a long period are on my side here, not only because I’m a figure skater but because, first of all, I’m a Korean,” he said.

In August, Ten posted on Instagram a picture of himself beside a monument to his great grandfather, Min Geung-ho, a Korean general who died in the country’s fight for independence in the city on Wonju.

“I had to make sacrifices to be able to compete in Pyeongchang,” Ten said. “It’s a great honor for me to be in Korea. I had been waiting for this competition for a long time.”

Reporting by Gabrielle Tétrault-Farber; Editing by Sudipto Ganguly