The government is looking to present the prestigious People’s Honor Award to figure skating superstar Yuzuru Hanyu, Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga said Friday.
Last month, Hanyu claimed the gold medal in men’s singles at the Pyeongchang Olympics, becoming the first man since American Dick Button in 1952 to repeat as champion in the event.
Hanyu’s feat is a “historic achievement” that both moved and encouraged Japanese people, bringing “enormous dreams and hopes to society,” the top government spokesman said.
The Sendai native’s second straight Olympic title, which saw him overcome an injury to his right ankle, suffered on Nov. 9 during practice for the NHK Trophy, was also an encouraging message for those still affected by the March 2011 earthquake and tsunami, Suga said.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe had already instructed relevant government officials to consider giving the award to Hanyu before making a final decision, Suga said.
If Hanyu is given the People’s Honor Award, he would be the first figure skater to receive the accolade, which is bestowed by the prime minister himself to individuals or groups whose achievements have earned them “love and respect from all walks of life” and “brightened our society,” according to the government.
The 23-year-old would also become the first Winter Olympic athlete, and, as an individual, the youngest to receive the award.
Hanyu inspired a wave of national euphoria by bagging Japan’s first gold medal at the Pyeongchang Olympics on Feb. 17 despite still dealing with the effects of the ligament damage he sustained when he injured his ankle.
After taking a commanding lead with a breathtaking performance in the short program, Hanyu successfully defended his title by demonstrating near perfection in the free skate and executing four quadruple jumps.
Once he finished his free skate, his amazed fans threw hundreds of Winnie the Pooh — Hanyu’s favorite character — stuffed animals onto the ice, turning the scene at Gangneung Ice Arena into a sea of yellow.
The Sendai native was practicing at an ice skating rink when the Great East Japan Earthquake jolted Miyagi Prefecture and Tohoku — a catastrophe that later forced him to evacuate. His rise to champion at the 2014 Sochi Olympics strongly encouraged disaster victims coping to rebuild their lives, Suga said.
Japan brought home a record 13 medals from the Pyeongchang Olympics, its most-ever from a Winter Games, topping the 10 the nation’s athletes earned at the 1998 Nagano Games.
Included in that total are four gold medals, won by Hanyu and speedskaters Nao Kodaira, in the women’s 500 meters, and Nana Takagi, in the women’s mass start. Japan also claimed gold in the women’s speedskating team pursuit.
Because of Japan’s overall success at the Pyeongchang Games, the government was reportedly hard-pressed to determine who should receive the award.
While Hanyu certainly captivated the whole nation, Takagi, for example, won two golds in woman’s mass start and women’s team pursuit.
“It was probably the fact Hanyu’s feat was a first in 66 years in the world” that made him People’s Honor Award-worthy, a senior government official said.