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When Hanyu made his first appearance of the 2017/18 figure skating season at the Skate Canada Autumn Classic International in Montreal (CAN) in September, he picked up where he had left off in winning the world title in Helsinki (FIN) five months earlier.
The Japanese delivered a stunning short programme to the sound of Frédéric Chopin’s Ballade No.1, executing a quadruple salchow, a quadruple toe loop/triple toe loop combination and a spins and step sequence with such precision that he scored 112.72 points to break his own short-programme world record. It was the 12th such record in the remarkable career of a skater who was the first to break the 100-point barrier in the short at Sochi 2014.
Despite being regarded as the finest figure skater of his day, and one of the best of any generation, Hanyu is not infallible, as he showed when he fell during the free routine in Montreal. The slip saw him relegated to second place in the opening ISU Challenger Series event of the season, behind his main rival, Spain’s Javier Fernández.
Hanyu left the event determined to channel his disappointment into raising his personal bar even higher. “It was my first competition of the season and it was a frustrating experience for me. I want to develop my inner strength and I’m going to go away and come up with an even more difficult routine.”
The skater, who hails from the Japanese city of Sendai, knows all about overcoming adversity. He was in the middle of a training session at the local ice rink when the town was struck by the devastating tsunami of March 2011. Surviving that catastrophic event helped to give him a fresh perspective on life.
“I often feel that the things you take for granted are not always certain in life,” he later reflected. “It all comes down to luck, and I feel that way because I almost lost everything. My values totally changed after the disaster, and my aim now is to make every single day, every practice session and every competition count.”
Determined to do something to help his local community, Hanyu has since used the royalties from his autobiography Blue Flames to rebuild the ice rink in Sendai.
Since 2012, Hanyu has been working under the guidance of former Canadian world champion and two-time Olympic champion Brian Orser. It has proved to be a successful partnership, with Hanyu consistently thrilling fans en route to the top of the podium. In December 2013, he claimed victory in the ISU Grand Prix Final in December 2013, which was followed a few months later by his first Olympic title in Sochi.
One month after claiming the Olympic crown, the Japanese skater claimed his first world title on home ice in Saitama, and ended the Olympic year with a second ISU Grand Prix Final victory, this time in Barcelona (ESP).
At the NHK Trophy in November 2015, Hanyu scored 106.33 points in the short to break his own world record and repeated the trick in the free with a score of 216.17 points, which also allowed him to take his new combined world record to 322.40 points.
Hanyu went and broke all three again in winning a third consecutive ISU Grand Prix Final in Barcelona a month later, scoring 110.95 points in the short and 219.48 in the free for a combined world record of 330.43. As of November 2017, it has yet to be beaten.
A world championship runner-up to Fernández in 2015 and again the following year, Hanyu made history at the Skate Canada event in Montreal in September 2016, becoming the first ever skater to land a quadruple loop.
In Marseille (FRA) in December 2016, the Japanese skater became the first man to win the Grand Prix Final four times in a row. And at the 2017 ISU World Championships in Helsinki, he astonished everyone by coming back from fifth place after the short programme to win gold.
He did so thanks to a mesmerising routine, one of the finest ever seen. Joe Hisaishi’s Hope and Legacy provided the musical backdrop as Hanyu reeled off four quadruples jumps (a loop, two salchows – one of them in a combination – and a toe loop), two triple axels and two triple-triple combinations, not to mention a Biellmann spin, a rarity in men’s figure skating.
The crowd expressed their appreciation by covering the ice with cuddly toys and flowers, while the judges expressed theirs by awarding him 223.20 points, yet another world record. Hanyu’s combined total of 321.20 gave him victory over his compatriot Shoma Uno and China’s Jin Boyang, while Fernández fell and could only finish fourth.
“It’s great to beat my own world record by three points,” said the winner afterwards. “I think I can go even higher. I’ve been thinking about breaking the world record all season and I’ve felt a bit of pressure as a result.”
Hanyu’s recipe for continued success at PyeongChang 2018 is based on hard work and lots of training; one that will make him the firmest of favourites when he steps onto the ice at the Gangneung Ice Arena to defend his Olympic title.