Yuzuru Hanyū, setting records on the Sochi ice
In surpassing the 100-point barrier during his short programme at Sochi 2014, Yuzuru Hanyū set a new world record and became the first male Japanese figure skater in history to win Olympic gold
On 11 March 2011, Japanese figure skater Yuzuru Hanyū, who had been crowned world junior champion the previous year, was in the middle of a training session at his local ice rink when a terrible earthquake struck off the coast off his home town, Sendai, triggering a devastating tsunami. The 16-year-old, ice skates still on his feet, barely had time to evacuate the building, and would spend the next few days in an emergency shelter with his family, surveying the damage to his home and rink from afar.
“I often feel that things you take for granted are not always guaranteed,” he later reflected. “Everything exists by luck. Because I almost lost everything, I came to feel this way. The disaster totally changed my values. I want to make every single day, every practice and every competition count.”
In 2012, Hanyū won a bronze medal at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships in Nice (FRA). Shortly afterwards, he published his autobiography, entitled Blue Flames, the royalties for which went towards refurbishing the Sendai Ice Rink.
The up-and-coming figure skater then hired reputed coach Brian Orser, based in Toronto (CAN), where he increased the frequency of his training sessions and refined his technique. After prevailing in style at the Japanese Championships in December 2013 in Sapporo, he earned a call-up to the Japanese Olympic team that was bound for the Sochi Games.
World record in Russia
On 13 February 2014 at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Hanyū took control of the Olympic men’s figure skating competition, delivering an astonishing short programme routine. To the sounds of Gary Moore’sParisienne Walkways, he captivated the crowd by performing a quadruple toe, triple axel, and triple lutz-triple toe loop combination to amass a world record score of 101.45 – the first time in figure skating history that a competitor had exceeded the 100-point mark in the short programme.
Two days later, the Japanese skater, sitting atop the standings and boasting a four-point lead over Patrick Chan (CAN), unexpectedly fell twice in the opening minute of his free skate, choreographed to Nino Rota’sRomeo and Juliette. Demonstrating the mental fortitude for which he is known, he recovered in admirable fashion, putting in an emotional and artistic performance that featured exceptional jumps and transitions.
Awarded a total of 280.09 points, he was crowned Olympic champion ahead of silver medallist Chan (275.62 points), and immediately fell into the arms of a delighted Orser. At 19, he was the first male Japanese skater to win a figure skating gold medal, and the youngest man to do so for 66 years.
“I’m so surprised!” he exclaimed. “I’m not very happy with my performance. I was nervous, but I got the gold medal. I got the Japanese flag onto the flagpole. That’s something I can be proud of.”
From strength to strength
Having triumphed at the ISU Grand Prix just prior to the 2014 Olympic Games, Hanyū, a huge star in Japan, subsequently claimed a maiden world title on home soil in Saitama (JPN), becoming the first skater to achieve this treble success during the same season since Alexei Yagudin (RUS) in 2002. If he maintains this kind of form, the Waseda University student will be highly fancied to retain his Olympic title at Pyeongchang 2018.