The past few weeks have been very “meaningful” and “satisfying” for Japan’s Yuzuru Hanyu, who has won nearly every competition this season. Thus far, he has broken a total of ten records.
During the last week of November, the current Olympic champion demolished the records of both the short and long programs with two close-to-perfect performances at 2015 NHK Trophy. Two weeks later, he not only replicated the success, but further improved the quality of execution at the 2015-16 ISU Grand Prix Final (GPF) in Barcelona, Spain. As a result, he again bettered the record scores and brought home his third consecutive GPF gold medal.
Looking at the extraterrestrial scores he has recently produced, it is hard to believe that only a month ago the three-time GPF winner finished only sixth in short program segment at Skate Canada due to two invalid jumping passes which had no credit at all. However, that humble experience turned into the catalyst for the greater performances afterwards.
“I knew that after Skate Canada we had to make a change,” said coach Brian Orser. “My change was a little bit more conservative, and his change was more ambitious.”
The ambitious change was to upgrade the solo quadruple jump from a quad toe to a quad Salchow, and then upgrade the first jump of the combination from a triple Lutz to a quad toe.
“By doing this, we can avoid what happened at Skate Canada,” Orser explained.
“I just told Brian that ‘I would do it,” recalled Hanyu. “I thought by the time of Pyeongchang Olympics, you cannot win without a short program that consists of two quads with difficult entries and exits—plus excellent footwork, spins and presentation. As the reigning Olympic champion, I want to be absolutely dominant.”
Despite the fact that it was the first time for Hanyu to do a quad toe–triple toe combination in competition, as well as the first time he put a quad Salchow in the short, Hanyu has been extremely consistent with both—hardly missing any in either competitions or in official practices.
The three-time Japanese national champion revealed the reason.
“A few years ago, when I was skating to “Étude in D-sharp minor” (by Alexander Scriabin), I had practiced the quad toe-triple toe from a counter entry. Moreover, I have been practicing this combination during my free skate’s run-through, so it is not a new trick for me.”
As for the quad Salchow, which used to be his nemesis jump, his efforts in the past three years spent on the jump have not been wasted.
“I believe in what I have done,” said the 2014 World champion. “I have been finding the way to bring the result from training into actual competition. Now I can take the challenge.”
The change was not only on the jumping passes, but on almost every element and transition.
“I feel like it became a completely different program,” said the 21-year-old. “All the transitions, as well as some detailed presentation, were changed. I had been really pushing myself in training like never before during the past month.”
After training hard for a month, Yuzuru was surprised at how good the new program improved. However, after the new record score of 110.95 points achieved with this renewed short program in Barcelona, the skater felt extra pressure heading into the free skate despite a huge advantage.
“The pressure of delivering another clean performance became even stronger, because after the short, I realized that now it is not about winning,” he said. “I felt I was chased by my own world record and I must break it.”
The skater from Sendai, Japan, started his free skate under the anxiety coming from his record, as well as his teammate Javier Fernandez’s performance (201.43 points). However, Hanyu beautifully cleared one element after another, earning many level fours and positive grades of execution (GOE) along the way. He earned 219.48 for the long and 330.43 overall to blow away the competition, as well as achieving two new historical records.
“I suddenly felt released,” he recalled. “I was really nervous because after what I produced at NHK Trophy, I felt obliged to do it again. I realized all I could do was to do the best I could do at that moment, so I re-focused on doing my program. The supportive audience really helped me too.”
The “release” was also connected to the fact that the young champion did not have his best skates in the last Olympics.
“I definitely felt like this is ‘revenge’ to what happened in Sochi,” explained the Hanyu. “I think I was able to clear the regrets I left in Sochi, but I also believe there will be another time that I will feel regrettable again. I will bring these regrets with me on my way to the next Olympics.”
Hanyu once made a comment (after NHK Trophy) that he wanted to be an “absolute majesty” in men’s figure skating. In his mind, that means that he should not be influenced by external factors and nerves.
“It is true that I want to always be number one and I want to always give performances that I am satisfied with, but I must not let the pressure have the upper hand of me.”
The multiple record holder also made it clear that what he tries to achieve in skating is not just about the scores.
“It is a sport that people tend to pay great attention to the scores and get really excited when a world record is refreshed,” Hanyu acknowledged, “but I think the most important thing is how you can push your limits and bring out the best performance you can.”
“People may think my scores are wonderful, but I feel more motivated when I hear people say they like my performance and they want to watch it again,” he continued. “In order to impress and move the audience, I want to continue to train hard, to make sure my jumps are consistent and the overall program is a complete package. I want to give the kind of performances that stay in their hearts.”
Moving forward in the Olympic cycle, Hanyu aims to defend his title in 2018 and plans to up the ante.
“I see the future of figure skating in Boyang Jin, who can do multiple quads with high quality and deliver wonderful performances,” Hanyu pointed out. “I don’t know how many quads will be necessary when we look into Pyeongchang, but I want to work on more difficult and higher quality quads.”
For example, the skater wanted to add the quad loop he had been practicing for at least two years into his program this season, however, the landing is not yet ideal or consistent.
“I need to pay attention to my physical condition too,” Hanyu pointed out. “The extremely hard training after Skate Canada and what I achieved at the NHK Trophy made me realize that the body is everything.”
While Hanyu plans to increase the level of his layout difficulty, he doesn’t feel that now is that time for that.
“In order to always be able to perform the best I can, despite I may face negative factors like pressure, if my body is on the positive side, I can manage to deliver,” he said. “Therefore, for now, the first thing I should do is to take care of my body and make sure I have control of my physical condition.”
The three-time Japanese champion will be in Sapporo, Japan, this week defending his national title. The skater admits that based on past experience, his “peaking” tends to calm down a bit during nationals, but as usual, he will give the best performances he can.