Golden Skate

Olympic Champion Hanyu keeps up the challenge

Yuzuru Hanyu

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan with coach Brian Orser at 2014 Cup of China.

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan reached the pinnacle of figure skating when he won Olympic gold in Sochi and the World title last season at just 19 years of age. However, the beginning of the new season has not been so easy on the skater.

Earlier last month at Cup of China, the two-time and current Japanese champion suffered a collision with Han Yan of China during the free skate warm up. The incident made headlines worldwide and started a discussion about the safety of the athletes.

Both skaters were going backwards and did not see each other.

“The first time we hit each other I think it was with the knees,” Hanyu recalled. “His knee came into my thigh and I was on my left leg, so from that shock and impact I just fell and collapsed. That’s when I hit my abdomen and I couldn’t breathe. Immediately I didn’t think about a concussion or anything. I didn’t feel like I hit my head. I was quite clear and conscious, but I just couldn’t breathe.”

The skater, who is coached by Brian Orser, received stitches to his chin and had other bleeding lacerations. Yet he came out to compete, with a bandage around his head, looking like a wounded warrior launching himself into battle again. Although he fell five times, Hanyu has no regrets.

“At that time, I wanted to skate so I made that decision,” he pointed out. “I think everything was good. I think they (the fans) were moved that I performed the ‘Phantom’ in this condition. I saw that people were rooting for me and that overwhelmed me. That’s the reason of my tears in the Kiss and Cry. The scores coming up and everybody cheering for me…I was just so happy about it.”

Hanyu, who still hung on to second place at Cup of China, returned to Japan the next day and had to rest for ten days.

“No skating, no training, just resting, sleeping and watching TV,” he listed. “When I first time came back to the ice, it was really painful. Once the intense pain eased, up I started training again.”

The 2014 Olympic champion had the opportunity to review the accident over and over as it was televised and featured in newspapers and online media multiple times. He is well aware about the discussion that was going on around his decision to compete.

“I heard these opinions, but it was my decision,” confirmed Hanyu. “Some agreed with my decision, some didn’t. Some blamed Brian. That made me feel very bad and sad and I am sure Brian felt really disappointed by such comments.”

Going into NHK Trophy three weeks later, the current World champion was understandably not yet at the top of his game, barely making the Grand Prix Final after finishing fourth. He missed his quads and made some other errors, although he did land several good quads in practice and in the warm up.

“I wouldn’t say that I am at 100 percent, but I am recovered,” offered Hanyu. “My feelings are coming back. The reason I made mistakes was just my own fault. I am not putting it on the injuries. That’s where I am at now.”

Bottomline, the coach feels the defending Grand Prix Final champion just needs to train more.

“In the autumn we had some trouble with his back, so he had some time off,” coach Orser explained. “We didn’t do proper training. And then the collision in China really set us back a lot. So I think at NHK we were hoping for a little bit of improvement, but even on the practices, I could see some progress.”

Orser feels it is tough for any Olympic champion going into a new season, and feels this will be a good learning experience for Hanyu.

“We are looking at the big picture,” said Orser. “The big picture is, of course, Nationals and the World Championships. This might just be the thing for him to step up the training a little bit.”

In order to avoid too much travel between different time zones, Hanyu stayed in Japan after NHK Trophy to prepare for the Grand Prix Final.

“Brian said he is going to send me a schedule immediately,” said Hanyu. “I don’t have much time to practice for sure. I lost (at NHK Trophy). The two (Grand Prix) competitions actually showed me a lot of issues and challenges that I need to tackle.”

It is all about challenges for the Sendai native. Challenging himself is what keeps him motivated after all the success he achieved.

“It is not pride or being proud of myself, it is more about I can be a challenger (again). For this season, I want to get that quad (toe) in the second half of the program. That wasn’t possible (until now). I want to go and make all these different challenges, but I realized that health is very important. Brian always says your body comes first.”

Hanyu, who turns 20 year old on December 7, feels that he himself hasn’t changed after winning Olympic gold, but admitted that it is sometimes difficult to deal with the attention coming from the media and the fans. First and foremost, he just wants to be an athlete—a skater that competes and performs.