It has been 12 days now since Yuzuru Hanyu’s epic free skate at the world championships in Helsinki won him a second title, and rather than receding into the memory banks of our minds, it continues to resonate.
The more Ice Time watches it, the more he sees absolute genius.
This was the kind of artistry that masters like Mozart and Picasso created. Truly priceless.
Video of Hanyu’s free skate to Joe Hisaishi’s “Hope and Legacy” will be used by coaches around the world for years to come to illustrate to their skaters what perfection is.
I believe that if a tape of this is put into a vault and not opened for 50 years, those who find it would be blown away by the stunning fusion of athleticism and artistry that the 22-year-old Hanyu weaved.
If anybody thinks I am exaggerating, go on YouTube and watch it for yourself.
Ice Time gained access to the NBC video of Hanyu’s free skate in the past few days, and Nagano Olympic champion Tara Lipinski agreed with my view.
“An Olympic champ skating like a true Olympic champ,” Lipinski stated. “That was incredible. He has it all. He has the technical difficulty. The style of the skating is so unique and beautiful. Excellent skating skills.”
NBC analyst Johnny Weir detailed what it is that makes the Sendai native special.
“He is so well rounded in so many ways,” noted Weir. “The jumps are beautiful. The technique, especially in this free program. He was so solid with his back through his core. So strong.
“What sets him apart artistically is that he can do everything,” added Weir. “From this beautiful melodic piano piece, to making Prince work, to making metal work. That is how he stays ahead of the rest.
“His emotion sells everything. This was royalty. This was majesty. This was an amazing performance for Yuzuru Hanyu.”
The first world championship was held 121 years ago, in 1896, in St. Petersburg, Russia.
After Hanyu’s free skate, Eurosport announcer Simon Reed said, “That was very probably the best figure skate ever.”
I have yet to hear anybody disagree.
An international coach, who was in Helsinki for the worlds, concurred with Lipinski, Weir and Reed.
“His free skate was just one of those moments in sports where you just go, ‘surrounded by angels who won’t let him falter,’ ” the coach commented. “He could have thrown himself and he would have landed perfectly.
“He was in the zone, and I think he was so mad at the short program and so I think what happened in the short made the free skate happen as it did. Had the short been good, the free would have been a different approach. He was so determined to skate like he did.”
The coach said that what stuck out most was how smoothly Hanyu was able to pull it off.
“He made it look so easy,” the coach stated. “It is one of the most difficult things in sports what he did. It was remarkable. It didn’t look as hard as it was, but that is the magic of Yuzuru.”
In an interview with The Skating Lesson’s David Lease last week, Hanyu’s coach Brian Orser felt the victory was crucial for his prized pupil.
“Yuzu needed that. He needed that win. He is not a fan of coming in second,” said Orser. “It’s been a while. The last time he was on top of the podium at worlds was the Olympic year (2014). So we’re at the Olympic year again.
“He was next to Javi a couple of times and as much as he is friendly with Javi and is a teammate, he doesn’t like being second. He needed it. It was time for him.
“I think it is going to play out beautifully for the drama for next year, for the event,” Orser commented. “They each have two world titles now. . . . I think Javi and Yuzu are right on track. They have great programs. They have great choreography. They have incredible skating skills and transitions.”
Orser told nbcolympics.com in an interview last week that Hanyu was down after his short program.
“I knew he was disappointed after the short so we needed to just let him be disappointed for that night,” Orser recalled for the website. “Then we did our practice the next day and he was on a mission to prove something. I totally had to hold him back and say, ‘Just do one practice. Don’t do a run through. We’re just gonna treat this like a day of rest.’
“He was kind of like, ‘really?’ And I said, ‘Yeah, just trust me on this. I want you fresh for tomorrow; you’re gonna be fine.’
“Honestly, he’s never been in this kind of condition before,” Orser said. “So, just, ‘trust your training. You need to come to the rink a little more approachable, a little bit less focused.’ He gets intense. There’s focused, and there’s intense.
“As soon as he came in (on Saturday) and we started our off-ice warm up, I looked at his team leader and I said, ‘He’s got a better face today,’ Orser remembered. “I could tell by his face. He was a little bit more engaging and it just felt right.”
Uno’s style stands out
The international coach provided a detailed analysis of Shoma Uno’s sensational showing to earn the silver medal behind Hanyu at the worlds.
“When everybody can do the same jumps and same spins, what is going to be the difference?” the coach asked.
“It is going to be a personality, a charm, a look, and he has all that. And he is so powerful. He became a player. It was (Javier) Fernandez and Yuzuru the last number of years. Patrick Chan was biting at it, but not really in there.
“Uno became a real serious player this year,” the coach noted. “It was pretty cool.”
The coach believes that Uno’s approach, though successful, is a bit unorthodox.
“I don’t find his technique particularly solid,” the coach noted. “He is physically solid and he is short. He is like a cat.
“Would I say it is the most perfect, solid, consistent technique?
“I wouldn’t, because he swings the free leg quite a bit on the flip. He is very powerful, so he is able to correct the imperfections in the technique.”
The coach acknowledged that, like many in the skating world, Uno’s rapid rise has been a surprise.
“I would not have predicted for him to do so much so quickly,” the coach said. “I would also be surprised if he is able to maintain that for an extended length of time.
“It’s susceptible. First of all, you are doing a lot of quads. So it is physically demanding on anybody,” the coach stated. “His benefit is that he has a low center of gravity, so he is able to adapt very quickly to something that has gone wrong. If something goes wrong, it is not a big problem for him, it is a smaller problem.
“His technique is not as solid as Fernandez, it’s not as solid as Yuzuru. But he is solid.”
The coach believes that Uno’s individuality is a key to his success.
“What I was thrilled at is his uniqueness,” the coach commented. “He is just something different. He is totally different than the others, and charming. He is very good.”
Weir had a similar perspective on Uno.
“He skates with so much passion. Very unique,” Weir said after Uno’s free skate. “He really feels the music from head to toe. He really sold his heart through this whole program. Very exciting.”
Lipinski feels that sometimes Uno’s ability to elevate so easily creates challenges for him on the way back down.
“Sometimes he gets so deep in his knees on the takeoff, and then gets such heights on his quads that it is hard for him to control the landing,” Lipinski stated.
Yuna lends a hand
South Korea’s Choi Da-bin placed 10th at the worlds, thereby securing two spots for the host nation in women’s singles at next year’s Pyeongchang Olympics.
The 17-year-old Choi, who set a personal best at the worlds, thanked icon Yuna Kim for helping with her preparations for the global event, The Korea Herald reported.
“She has been giving me advice on my jumping and breathing techniques,” Choi said. “After this competition, she congratulated me on my result.”
Man in demand
Orser is in Singapore this week to conduct a three-day development camp for the nation’s top skaters, The Straits Times reported. The event is being sponsored by the Singapore Ice Skating Association (SISA).
“I hope to pass on some skills and basic techniques,” Orser told the paper, “but mostly motivate and inspire the athletes to be the best they can be. I’d like to encourage the coaches and share some ideas as well. Having champions from ‘non-traditional’ skating backgrounds is becoming more common now, why not Singapore?
“Anything is possible. I’m really looking forward to my few days there, meeting the skaters, coaches and the administration staff.”
SISA president Sonja Chong said Orser was keen on the project from the beginning.
“When we first approached him, he never hesitated in wanting to come and spend some time imparting his skills to our skaters and coaches,” Chong was quoted as saying.
Ice Time will have a retrospective on the fantastic career of three-time world champion Mao Asada next week.