NAGANO - Sometimes in life we are in the right place at the right time.
Saturday night was one of these cases for Ice Time.
What Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu did that evening at Big Hat was nothing short of incredible. It was the perfect meshing of athleticism and art.
Hanyu’s free skate at the NHK Trophy made it three world records in two nights for the Sendai native. Absolutely amazing.
A gifted athlete and an entertaining showman, Hanyu has it all and a great personality on top of it.
When I think of the ideal face of Japan in the 21st century, I think of Hanyu.
A person with limitless potential, who is going to be successful at whatever he does.
Back in 1981, Yomiuri Giants third baseman Tatsunori Hara was voted Japan’s top male symbol in a poll. The biggest star on the country’s biggest team, it came as no surprise.
I don’t even think a vote would be necessary now. Hanyu would win hands down if a survey was taken today and deservedly so.
Hanyu’s score of 216.07 in his free skate, coupled with his tally of 106.33 from the short program, combined to give him a historic total of 322.40. He became the first man to surpass the 300-point barrier and shattered the previous record score of 295.27 held by three-time world champion Patrick Chan.
As I rode back to my hotel on Saturday night, I just kept saying to myself over and over, “That was unbelievable. That was unbelievable.”
It didn’t take long for the plaudits to start rolling in for Hanyu with people watching the NHK Trophy from around the globe.
Canadian Broadcasting Corporation skating analyst Carol Lane tweeted, “Watching Yuzuru Hanyu break the world record FP score today was a privilege. A true master at work, showing the world how it’s done.#respect”
Legendary skating writer Phil Hersh, who retired from the Chicago Tribune last week after 31 years, weighed in with his view on Twitter.
“If this happened at Olympics people would talk about it for decades,” he wrote.
There was an interesting give and take between a follower and Hersh in the aftermath of Hanyu’s scintillating performance on Saturday.
“That was spectacular, but I think he lacks charisma compared to (Daisuke) Takahashi, (Alexei) Yagudin or (Stephane) Lambiel,” tweeted a fan. “He’s artistic, but not an artist.”
Hersh, never one to back down from a challenge, immediately wrote back.
“His charisma comes from jumps and energy, the way it did for Tara (Lipinski) in 98. Stunning athleticism can be artistry,” he replied.
Three-time U.S. champion and NBC analyst Johnny Weir was clearly moved as well by Hanyu’s performance in the free skate.
“Absolutely stunning world record for Yuzu-kun! 322+ points! Nobody has ever been close. Bravo!”
Ice Time has been fortunate in his long career in sports media to see some of the greatest athletes to ever compete in person.
I’ve seen Pele play soccer (for Santos), Muhammad Ali box, Wilt Chamberlain play basketball, Wayne Gretzky play ice hockey, Joe Montana play football and Willie Mays play baseball.
These men were all giants in their sports, the best ever many would say. They dominated for years.
If Hanyu continues to perform like this, he has a chance to join them.
There will be those who will debate whether figure skating is really a sport because it relies on a judging panel. That’s a bogus argument.
Sometimes the judges do get it wrong, but the skaters are athletes in every sense of the word. When you see Hanyu execute at the level he did in his free skate, there can be no question that you were witnessing someone at the pinnacle of their sport in their prime.
My guess is that if you asked 99 percent of the players in the NHL, one of the toughest leagues in any sport, to skate full speed down a sheet of ice without a helmet or pads and rotate four times in the air just once, they would say, “You’re crazy.”
Hanyu did five clean quads in two nights. Anybody that thinks he is not an athlete is clearly disconnected from reality.
It’s still early, but with an Olympic title, world senior and junior titles, and many more years ahead of him, Hanyu may be in the conversation as the greatest male skater of all time someday.
Three men have won multiple Olympic gold medals — Sweden’s Gillis Grafstrom (1920, 1924, 1928), Austria’s Karl Schafer (1932, 1936) and American Dick Button (1948, 1952).
What fans and media love about Hanyu is his sunny disposition, quick wit and work ethic. People these days are subjected to so much negativity just about everywhere they turn, that it is refreshing to encounter a person who emits positive vibes.
Hanyu was genuinely happy for training partner Javier Fernandez last season when the Spaniard edged him out to win the world title in Shanghai. It was the kind of act that exemplifies Hanyu.
A great athlete, with a big heart.
It’s just over two years to go now until the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, but if Hanyu skates like he did on Saturday, he will win the gold again and join the pantheon of the sport’s all-time legends.
It couldn’t happen to a better or more deserving person.