“Efforts may lie, but will never be in vain”
– Yuzuru Hanyu
Holding fire in his heart and feet kissing the ice, most men walk but he learnt to take flight. Unarguably, the Japanese Figure Skater Yuzuru Hanyu was born to skate. The world recognizes Hanyu as one of the greatest of all time if not greatest figure skater ever. The youngest of his family, Hanyu was born on 7th December 1994 in Sendai, Japan. It was at the young age of four when he followed his elder sister to the rink, unknown to even him that he would one day be creating history.
Winning his first gold in the 2004 Japan Novice Championships in the Novice B category (the lower of the two categories), was the start of his journey to holding 19 world scoring records and already becoming two times Olympic Champion by the age of 24 and the youngest men’s single skater to hold an Olympic gold for the first time in 66 years at the age of 19!
As he continues to leave his footprints beyond the rinks, it was in his darkest times that he was truly tested for the first time.
“I hate it when I am weak. But being weak means I have the potential to become stronger…”
Wearing the armour of tragedy
As the world watched from their television screens the unimaginable horrors of nature being unleashed on Japan, it was then 16-years-old Hanyu’s reality. Training at his home rink in Sendai, Hanyu witnessed the ice under his feet crack when the Great East Japan Earthquake struck. The massive impact of the calamity that shifted the earth’s axis by 17 centimetres towards 133-degree east longitude, forced Hanyu to crawl out of the shaking establishment and flee with the unguarded skates still on his feet. The approximately 6 minutes earthquake, followed by the tsunami cost him his home rink, and his dreams were quickly replaced by a nightmare. The gymnasium of a primary school turned evacuation centre became his shelter. The uncertain future ahead taught people to take one day at a time. He was in for the roughest days of his life with no electricity, water, or gas. Though hurdled under a blanket with his family in the freezing cold made him glad to be alive, he was torn between the guilt of longing to go back on ice and knowing many people had it worse than him who lost their homes and their families in the blink of an eye.
Thoughts of giving up skating looming overhead, it was only when his childhood coach agreed to take him under his wing for a short time, he decided to travel to Kanagawa with his severely damaged skates on March 20th. Locked in his heart was the guilt of leaving the disaster area to skate, and it stayed with him for a long time. To save electricity, he would leave the lights switched off, practising with the dim lights coming through the windows in the ceiling.
While he was glad to skate once again, the training time was too little for his bigger dreams. Especially after his first senior year had ended successfully and the future was limitless until then. The rink was in high demand from skaters who had lost their home rinks. At the time, ice shows came to his aid, and from then on until September he performed in 60 shows and was often introduced as “A victim of the disaster”.
Yuzuru knew of his one dream. The Olympic dream. He knew the responsibility that dream carried, and he submerged himself in the pressure of winning. By October, he had made a comeback for the season as a tougher athlete – his feelings as a skater now stronger. It became not only a show of strength but a show of character.
As Yuzuru said: “Precisely because I am alive, I must make the most of everything.”
Reigning and Raining
Skating at the 2014 Winter Olympics on Parisian Walkways by Gary Moore, Yuzuru announced himself to the world, becoming the first male skater in history to score 101.45 points in Men’s single short programme. The crowd went wild as he drew them in with his sharp techniques and remarkable artistry combined. After the 2 minutes 40 seconds programme, Yuzuru had spoken loud and clear – he was in for the win. Already a huge feat for a skater competing in the Olympics for the first time, Yuzuru had not only charmed his way into the audience’s but the judges’ heart with his poise and smile. This was the biggest leap towards his Olympic dream, earning Japan their first-ever gold in the men’s event and becoming the first Asian athlete to win in the same. For the first time, three Asian athletes stood on the podium and among them, was the 19-years-old gold medallist who had broken long-standing world records.
And so, his reign had begun. Every time Yuzuru stepped on the ice, everyone held their breath and watched all his moves, unblinking, unmoving. The stadium prepared itself for a few deafening minutes that seemed far too short for an extraordinary routine like his. By the end of it, the audience rained Hanyu’s lucky charm and unofficial mascot Winnie the Pooh plushies as a sign of their affection. Ever since 2010, Winnie the Pooh tissue dispenser had been Hanyu’s constant companion at the rink, hugging him for good luck. The bear sits rinkside and watches Hanyu skate.
Hanyu’s 2014 season was plagued by injuries and illnesses, but ended with a much-deserved result. In the 2014 Cup of China, Yuzuru collided with China’s Yan Han during the warm-up, leaving him with a bleeding chin and head as he remained still on the ice, with the wind knocked out of his lungs, for a good minute before help arrived. He had also hurt his midriff and left thigh and sprained his right ankle. What could have been his withdrawal from the competition altogether, the extraordinary young man arrived a few minutes later with compression bandages holding his wounds together, though visibly disoriented. Falling five times during his free skating programme, Yuzuru completed his routine giving it all he had and earning a silver medal at the end of it. Not a single dry eye in the stadium, Yuzuru became the epitome of humility and determination, smiling for his fans and later busting into tears. While performing on the ice, the bandages could no longer hold his injuries together and he had to get stitches and fly to Japan for further treatment.
By the end of the season, he became the first skater since 2002 to win the Olympics, World Championships, and the Grand Prix Final in the same season!
The Greatest of All Time
Hanyu’s list of achievements is a long one. Ought to be written in golden letters. A compilation of it all could be a book in itself. But any of his achievements could only be truly grasped by those who have seen him in action, whether on screen or in real life. Some notable achievements of the world’s best figure skater are:
- Setting 7 world score records under the current +5/-5 Grade of Execution System, including the First skater to hold the score of 200+ in Free Skating, first skater to hold the score of 300+ in combination and holding current world score record of 111.82 points at the 2020 Four continents Championships, among others.
- Holding 12 world score records under the previous +3/-3 Grade of Execution System, including Being the first and only skater to score 300+ points in combined total scores, a historical world record. Along with being the first and only skater to score 220+ points in free skating, another historical world record.
- He is the first and only male skater to achieve a super slam,
- The first skater to have four consecutive Grand Prix Final wins.
- He is the first skater in history to successfully land a quadruple loop, a quadruple toe loop-triple Axel sequence, and 3 quadruple jumps in the second half of a free skating program in competition.
- Ranked first in the world standings for 5 consecutive seasons.
The larger than life aura Hanyu carries on the ice are a combination of extraordinary techniques and versatile artistry. The charisma he exudes from the moment his blades touch the ice is like no other. He has it down from the technicalities to each movement of all his muscles. True to his words: “I was born for my skate”, Hanyu executes the most difficult elements and moves with impossible grace, leaving the audience mesmerised.
Taking off into jumps, Hanyu reaches a distinguishable height. Jumps are perhaps the first of the elements one notices in Hanyu’s figure skating. Before landing with feather light ease, it’s almost as if he had taken flight with the wings of hard work and passion.
The fluid and flexible spins are well-centred and sharp in Hanyu’s programmes. Not to mention, incredibly fast, it’s hard not to be spellbound. Even difficult spins like the donut spin and Biellmann spin that few male skaters are able to achieve, Yuzuru has it down to its finest detail.
Yuzuru has his mastery over other difficult elements as well like hydroblade, Ina Bauer, Layback Ina Bauer among others, performing them with refinement.
Beyond technicalities, Yuzuru has a beautiful understanding and interpretation of the music. It is with his musicality that he is able to deliver powerful emotions, keeping the audience at the edge of their seats. Analysts regard him as a “well-rounded skater”, and he is known for his precision, ice coverage, and flow.
Awards and Honours
The youngest recipient of the People’s Honour Award in 2018, Hanyu has also been bestowed with Japan Medal of Honour (Purple Ribbon) in 2014 and 2018. Some of the other awards and honours bestowed on him are:
- Most Valuable Skater by the International Skating Union in 2020.
- Japanese Olympic Committee Sports Award – Newcomer Award in 2009, Best Award in 2013, Special Achievement Award in 2015, Special Honor Award in 2018, Olympic Special Award in 2014 and 2018.
- JOC Cup (Most Valuable Player Award) in 2014, 2015, 2016, 2017, 2018, 2020 by Japan Skating Federation.
- Also nominated for Laureus World Sports Awards “Comeback of the year” in 2019.
No less than 15 awards have been presented to him by the Media, including:
- ESPN’s World Fame 100 (#70 in 2018, #64 in 2019).
- The Dominant 20 #11 in 2018.
- Forbes’ 30 Under 30 Asia 2018.
- Yomiuri Shimbun’s “Japan Sports Awards” Grand Prix in 2014, 2018 among others.
Some of the municipality awards he has been awarded are:
- Tokyo “Honor Award” (2018),
- Tokyo “Sports Grand Prize” (2018)
- Miyagi “Citizens’ Honor Award” (2014, 2018)
- Miyagi “Chairman of Prefectural Assembly’s Special Award” (2014, 2018)
- Sendai “Chairman of City Assembly’s Special Award” (2018)
- Sendai “Plaque of tribute” (2014, 2018)
After his two consecutive wins at the Olympics, thousands of people turned up on the streets of Sendai when a parade in Yuzuru’s honor was organized with the funding by the donations of T-shirts donning his silhouette and signature. With his grateful words in the parade, his fans cheered for the figure skating legend.
“I am here because of all the people in Japan who helped me. And all the people around the world who supported me.”
Beyond the rinks
Winnie the Pooh loving Ice Prince of Japan is as humble, thoughtful, and lovable as his unofficial mascot. Always trying to do his best and lending a helping hand, Yuzuru has written two autobiographies 青い炎 (Romaji: Aoi Hono; Translation: Blue Flame) and 青い炎 II (Romaji: Aoi Hono II Translation: Blue Flame II) published in 2012 and 2016 respectively. The royalties from the beautifully written books are donated to his beloved home rink Ice Rink Sendai, along with the publisher ‘Fusosha’ donating parts of the revenue sales for the same. He has also been donating personal items like his Olympics competition gloves, pair of figure skates in various donations, and recently raised $64,000 for the 2011 Quake Charity Auction (2019). That’s not all, he donated all of his Olympics prize money towards the 3.11 Earthquake/Tsunami relief as well as for building more rinks. The list of his philanthropy is almost as long as that of his achievements.
Once believing that his Gold medal cannot bring any direct joy to people around him who suffered, Yuzuru has come to become an immense source of support for young children and adults alike. He continues to be the inspiration of millions around the world.
“I know you must’ve suffered a lot. But if you could say “thank you” to everything, face life with gratitude, something good will happen eventually. This is what I believe in.”
– Yuzuru Hanyu
By Disha Walia