Yuzuru Hanyu Rises From the Ashes

“i have to learn to be more consistent.”

No skater deserved first place at the Nebelhorn Trophy in Germany in September as much as Yuzuru Hanyu. The native of Sendai, Japan, who will turn 17 on Dec. 7, was not only the best skater in the men’s field, he fought for the victory more than anyone else in the competition.

But the rising star had to overcome many obstacles to reach this goal, following the devastating events that struck his homeland last spring.

He recalled what transpired on March 11 at approximately 2:46 p.m. “I was practicing on the ice at my home rink in Sendai with other skaters when the earthquake struck. The earth was shaking so violently that I could hardly stand on my skates. I ran out of the building in my boots and even forgot to put on my skate guards, so the blades were damaged by the dirt on the floor.”

The roof of the rink did not collapse during the earthquake, and the building was not damaged by the tsunami that struck shortly after, but water pipes under the ice at the rink exploded and the ice melted. The rink was unusable until late July.

Hanyu also faced other challenges. “I had to spend three days in a gymnastic hall which had become an evacuation center because my parents’ house was damaged during the earthquake,” he explained. “After three days we were allowed to return to our homes at our own risk. But I had no idea where would I train.

"More than a week later the whole club moved to Hachinohe City, which was three hours away by car. We later went to Yokohama, because this city was far away from the atomic power stations in Fukushima. But I was unable to attend school there.”

The 2010 World junior champion and 2011 Four Continents silver medalist was the first alternate for the 2011 World Championships, originally scheduled to take place in Tokyo last March. But as Daisuke Takahashi, Nobunari Oda and Takahiko Kozuka were all healthy and competed in Moscow, Hanyu remained in Japan, and kept himself busy.

“I took part in a charity show to raise money for the victims of the Japanese catastrophe,” he said. “I also performed in a number of shows during the summer.”

On July 24th the rink in Sendai reopened, and Hanyu returned to work with his longtime coach Nanami Abe.

“Now I concentrate on skating and do not attend school very often, but I take correspondence courses,” he said. “But at the rink I often practice with many other skaters on the ice, sometimes 30 or 40. Only a few days before an international competition do I get ice time almost to myself.”

Hanyu said his skating career began just like many others. “My older sister took lessons and I wanted to do it as well when I was 4. My parents did not skate at all, but my mother liked watching figure skating on TV. Our family was inspired by a former top Japanese skater, Minoru Sano, who was a coach in our rink and is a friend of my family.”

The rising star has high expectations for his career. “My first goal for this season is to reach the Grand Prix Final,” said Hanyu, whose assignments are China and Russia. “The second goal is to make the World team. I know how difficult this will be.

“My goals for the future are to land all quad jumps in competition. I would like to learn even the quad Axel. Another goal is to win the next two Olympics, or at least win medals like my first idol Evgeni Plushenko, whose jumps are perfect and who is very consistent. My other idol is Johnny Weir because his flow and transitions are so beautiful.”

Hanyu’s victory in Germany may well be the first step toward achieving his goals. Time will tell if this extremely ambitious young man can make them a reality.

Originally published in December 2011