The moment Japanese figure skater Hanyu Yuzuru appeared at an ice rink stadium, he was greeted with a cheering crowd who were also in awe of the skater’s cute smile and politeness. You don’t need to be an avid figure skating fan to figure out (no pun intended) why. Even without any knowledge about his background, it’s hard to take your eyes off Hanyu once he began his effortless glide on the ice.
From his costumes and his smile to his choice of music and his performance, the two-time Olympic champion and two-time World champion is the epitome of perfection, a combination of grace, sophistication, and exquisite beauty. Since his debut competition in 2004 which earned him a gold medal, the 27-year-old ‘Prince of Ice’ has broken 19 world records and was the first Asian men’s singles figure skater to win an Olympic gold medal, and the first to achieve a Super Slam, having won all major competitions in both his senior and junior careers.
His performance has captured the hearts of millions of people, inspiring an online fan community from all over the world. Although the adoration looks somewhat close to an idol craze, it’s far from a blind devotion as there is nothing royal or luxurious in Hanyu’s journey to turn his passion into a revolution of figure skating history.
Born in Sendai, Japan, Hanyu was an ordinary and sickly boy with asthma since childhood. His name Yuzuru means “a tightly drawn bowstring”. It was given by his father Hidetoshi Hanyu, a junior school teacher, who wanted his son to “live a dignified way like the tightly drawn bowstring, symbolizing confidence, strength, and simplicity.
Hanyu began skating when he was four. A fun activity with his sister soon turned into a lifelong passion when he saw the performance of the world’s top figure skaters Evgeni Plushenko and Johny Weir.
At the beginning of his career, his home rink was closed down due to financial problems, cutting down his training time significantly. Then his coach at the time had to move to another rink, but luckily was replaced by Abe Nanami, a figure skating coach and choreographer who also taught other famous figure skaters. When his home rink was reopened two years later, his career took off immediately with the first medal at the 2007 Japan Novice Championships. It was around this time that he started to set his goal for the Olympics although he was struggling with asthma which posed a serious problem to his endurance. Today, he still suffers from it but learned to put it under control.
Hanyu’s family is also very supportive. Unable to afford expensive costumes due to financial constraints, his mother made all of the costumes until the 2012 World championship when a professional help came in to help. By that time, he was a household name across the world.
The year 2011 was probably one of the toughest year for Hanyu. Three weeks after the end of the 2010/2011 season and his senior debut, the 16-year-old athlete was on the ice when the 2011 Tohoku Earthquake and Tsunami struck his hometown, forcing him to move to places including nearby Hashinohe and Yokohama, which are three hours by car and around 300 kilometers away from Sendai respectively.
The struggle to keep up with the training, schoolwork, and travels back and forth to Sendai was so exhaustive that Hanyu thought about quitting. “I just had my hands full making a living, to stay alive. But so many people helped me out and now I’m here today,” Hanyu said after winning his first Olympic title in 2014.
Despite the arduous practice, Hanyu is also in charge of finding the songs for the competitions and actively involved in the costume design. For his Seimei program, hailed as one of his best masterpieces, Hanyu edited the song by himself to ensure every single beat and note was in sync with his choreography.
Hanyu admitted that he “achieved what I can achieve, I have done what I can do.” The only thing left is landing the first Quadruple Axel in history in the Beijing 2022 Olympics Winter Games. Unfortunately, he didn’t make it, partly due to ankle injury.
The jump, also known as 4A, refers to a four-and-a-half rotation. It is the most difficult jump and seen by experts to be impossible. However, triple jumps, once unthinkable, are now standard in figure skating. Quad jumps are less common but expected from top players.
After a three-month break, he just made the first public performance in late May. Now fans are wondering what his next plan will be. But Hanyu is well aware that his age is considered old for the sport, and so far hasn’t said whether he will participate in the next winter Olympics or not.
For his fans, it doesn’t matter as they will continue to support their role model who was described by one of his coaches for “always giving his best and exceeding his goals. There is no dispute when sport professionals and insiders call him “one of the world’s greatest athletes in history.”