Pyeongchang 2018

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What does the future hold for Yuzuru Hanyu?

Yuzuru Hanyu arches his neck skyward and lets out a long, weary sigh.

It’s another interview after an Olympic experience that has left him exhausted.

Physically and mentally, he has had to dig deep to become a champion once again.

But far from being irritable or annoyed at yet more media work, the double Olympic champion is still relaxed.

His shoulders fall and a boyish smile forms upon his lips.

Hanyu is the epitome of affability and impeccably well-mannered.

His down to earth charm is disarming. How can he be just so, well, normal?

Low profile

On the ice, Hanyu is a perfectly tuned force. The definition of grace under pressure.

The double Olympic champion carries his fame just as well.

The adulation and attention doesn’t seem to unduly trouble him.

If he wanted to, the 23-year-old could amass a huge social media following in the time it takes him to land a lutz.

The Japanese superstar has legions of devoted, Winnie the Pooh bear carrying fans.

Instead though, Hanyu choses to eschew the spotlight off the ice.

From a commercial standpoint, it’s an obvious opportunity missed. “Brand awareness” gone begging.

But for Hanyu, it’s pretty simple.

“I’m not really into making a lot of comments for myself,” Hanyu told the Olympic Channel in an exclusive interview after his success at PyeongChang 2018.

“I want to use social media when I want to listen to the voices of fans and also look at the news,” he explained.

“I can really feel a lot from many supporters… I’m not really interested in trying to send something for myself.”

Instead, Hanyu expresses himself on the ice.

Ordeal

“I just feel a full heart,” was his answer when asked to describe the feeling that figure skating gives him.

His road to glory started 19 years ago, when, aged four, he followed his sister to the local rink in his hometown of Sendai.

But his story is not without sacrifice and suffering along the way.

The biggest ordeal of all came on 11th March 2011.

The then 16-year-old Hanyu was caught up in the huge earthquake which devastated the region around Sendai.

Hanyu was practising at his local rink and had to rush out of the damaged building.

The quake left 15,000 dead and thousands more injured.

Three years later, Hanyu dedicated his Olympic gold in Sochi to his traumatised home town.

Hanyu also had to endure a fair amount of anguish on his path to PyeongChang.

Pain for PyeongChang

It was in practice for the NHK Trophy last November that Hanyu’s preparations were suddenly thrown into disarray.

The 23-year-old fell while attempting a quad Lutz. Ligament damage in his right ankle was diagnosed.

Defending the Olympic title he won at Sochi 2014 looked a long way off.

Hanyu went back to his base in Toronto, but his recuperation was painful and slow.

Whilst his competitors were perfecting their routines, Hanyu could not even get on the ice.

Weeks went by without skating. Initially, all he could do was visualisation exercises.

“I had a little bit of uncertainty” confessed Hanyu.

It was only mere days before arriving in South Korea that he returned to full training.

But still Hanyu carried off a superlative performance, finding a way to success through his pain.

Afterwards, he admitted that the pain in his ankle had only receeded by “20 to 30 per cent” from its peak.

Quad crazy?

Once more, Hanyu finds himself on the sidelines, having to skip the upcoming World Championships in Milan.

His ankle may just have held up through PyeongChang, but now he needs three months of rehabilitation on it.

His training partner Javier Fernandez of Spain will also be absent from the event, along with the USA’s Adam Rippon.

But American Nathan Chen – who created history at the Olympics with SIX quad jumps in his long program – will be in Italy.

So does Hanyu worry about his rivals going quad crazy in his absence?

Yuzuru warns that the answer is complicated before responding.

“If all of your jumps in the program are quads, you will be unbeatable,’

‘But the those skaters that were up on the podium (in PyeongChang) only jumped two types of quads, which are at this point, considered to be relatively easy,”

“You have to input a high level and quality of jumps, and it was also other parts of the programme that helped push us up to the podium,” he concludes.

That said, Hanyu is perhaps keeping a little bit in reserve.

His coach Brian Orser believes that Hanyu may decide to try to become the first man to land a quadruple axel.

“If anybody could do it, it would be Yuzu.” believes the Canadian.

“He always needs to have a something. A something to try to achieve.”

Future dreams

So, lots of things to consider in the next few years. Including his own future.

Will he be at Beijing 2022?

He replies with a long, drawn-out “Maybe.”

One thing Japan’s Ice Prince is committing to is to keep improving his English.

He jokes about the reason why – so he can meet his special mascot Winnie the Pooh

“If I can when I have learned lots of English,” he laughs.

“That is my dream – that I am going into the forest with Pooh!”



 

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