The Japanese men have become a strong force in figure skating with 2010 World Champion Daisuke Takahashi, Takahiko Kozuka and Nobunari Oda, who will represent their country at the ISU World Figure Skating Championships next week in Moscow. Yuzuru Hanyu is already part of the next generation and is an alternate for Worlds with impressive credentials as the reigning Four Continents silver medalist and 2010 World Junior Champion.
The athlete from Sendai is the only current Japanese top skater directly affected by the terrible earthquake and tsunami. As first alternate for Worlds, he kept training at home after the Four Continents Championships, as well as on March 11. The 16-year-old recalled the terrifying minutes.
“When the earthquake hit, I was on the ice at my home rink in Sendai,” he said. “I could not do anything. What I could do at that time was just try to stay on my feet. As soon as the big quake stopped, I ran out of the building in my skating boots. I had no time to put on the blade covers, so my blades were damaged. I was terrified of the natural disaster.”
Nothing was the same after the catastrophe.
“I spent three days at the evacuation center. At the center, a lot of people helped us so much, and therefore I would like to do anything for them. What I can do is just skating,” he explained, referring to taking part in a charity show on April 9. At this show, the skaters donated personal belongings like jackets for an auction that raised 2 954 323 Yen ($35,387 USD). After the show, the athletes collected cash donations near the exit. Overall, the event raised more than $150,000 USD.
Hanyu’s house in Sendai was damaged, but his family can still live in it. However, a water pipe ruptured at the ice rink and caused severe damage. The rink is currently closed and it is unknown when it will reopen. As a result, Hanyu had to leave his home to be able to continue to train.
“It was ten days after the earthquake before I could start skating again. I went to Hachinohe City, Aomori prefecture with my coach and our club members, and now I am practicing at the Kanagawa skating rink in Yokohama City,” the athlete said.
However, it is not clear yet where he will train for the upcoming season. “I just want to skate,” Hanyu pointed out. “From the end of April (and in May), I am planning to skate in ice shows in Japan. I would like to put out all my emotions in the performances. I really hope that my skating will give the people strength and cheer them up. After the shows I will decide the details (for next season).”
The next season will be very important for the immensely talented teenager on his way to the top. His transition from the junior to the senior level went smoothly so far. In 2009, Hanyu finished 12th in his debut at Junior Worlds and dominated the junior circuit the following season. This season, he added the quad toe to his repertoire and finished a strong fourth at the NHK Trophy and seventh at the Cup of Russia before coming in fourth at the Japanese National Championships. Hanyu then capped off his first senior season by winning the silver medal in his debut at the ISU Four Continents Championships in Taipei in February. He beat accomplished rivals such as Jeremy Abbott and Takahiko Kozuka.
“I clearly remember that I landed the quad,” Hanyu commented on his medal-winning performance. At the end of the program he knelt on the ice, hiding his face in his hands. “At that moment I thought I could have done better, but also I did pretty well, so there were mixed emotions,” he recalled. At the press conference he was still in shock. He never would have expected to finish second in his first international senior level championships.
For the next season, Hanyu’s goal is to make the World team. “The next step will be to become a member of the Japanese World team. This season I didn’t do too well in the Grand Prix, so I have to try to do better and try to become a finalist,” he explained. He knows that it won’t be easy. “Just keep practicing and competing at international championships and trying to get confidence” is his game plan.
The young Japanese skater may look delicate, but he is a fierce competitor and shrugs off painful looking falls in practice. “I don’t have any fear because it doesn’t mean that I’m a bad skater when I fall. So there is no fear, but it is painful. I have a strong challenging spirit, and I actually don’t care so much when I fall. It is just another challenge,” he said.
The challenge to overcome difficulties and to master hard elements is actually what Hanyu likes most about his sport. “I have a very challenging spirit when I achieve something difficult. It is a very good feeling,” he explained. The thing he doesn’t like is when he fails to express himself fully on the ice.
In Sendai, Hanyu used to train only two hours a day on the average and he didn’t do off-ice training. “I just want to focus on the training in a short time,” he noted. “I have school, too. Also, I have asthma and I’m not so strong physically,” he revealed. Hanyu is attending the same high school as Takeshi Honda and Shizuka Arakawa who also came from Sendai. His favorite subjects in school are math and science. Later, he would like to study sports science and physiology.
Hanyu, who started to skate as a four-year-old following in the footsteps of his older sister Saya, enjoys computer and video games in his spare time. His favorite music is J-pop, Taylor Swift and Lady Gaga. The music for his programs, however, is picked by his long-time coach Nanami Abe. “I’ll probably accept everything she brings to me,” he said with a smile. “Even if I don’t like the music, I want to accept it and try to make it my own.” Two pieces of music he’d really like to skate to in the future are Rondo Capriccioso and Sing, Sing, Sing.
Hanyu looks up to Johnny Weir. “As a skater, he is just a simply beautiful skater, that’s why I admire him so much,” the World Junior Champion offered. “Personally he is a very interesting guy and I like him. We are not in touch exchanging emails or anything like that, but he sent a cheering message for me on Twitter (during Four Continents) which I really appreciated. I’ve met him in Japan. Johnny designed my free skating costume,” he revealed.
Hanyu describes his character as “competitive, bright and positive”. “I think there is no fear for anything. That is my strong point,” he added. As for a weakness, he names “avoiding things sometimes”. His favorite color is red, “because it symbolizes fire”. The practical boy would take “water, a survival knife, and a flashlight” with him if sent to an isolated island. His personality and character seem to suit the meaning of his name that contains the character for “archery”. “It symbolizes confidence, strength and straightness,” Hanyu explained.