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Yuzuru Hanyu charms audiences at Tokyo public viewings

by Chisato Tanaka

Staff Writer

Over 200 figure skating fans watched Yuzuru Hanyu’s bid for Olympic immortality on Friday at NHK Fureai Hall in Tokyo’s Shibuya Ward, which was hosting one of several public viewing events taking place around the capital.

All 235 seats in the hall were occupied and another 40 people had to stand in front of the special 8K screen set up near the entrance of the hall.

Hanyu leads the men’s competition at the Pyeongchang Games ahead of Spain’s Javier Fernandez and Shoma Uno, after claiming an Olympic-record score of 111.68 in the short program.

Fans started to line up for the public viewing event from 6 a.m. — two hours before the hall opened — and there were over 40 people waiting at 8:30 a.m., according to Tetsuji Kawashima, a vice-administrator at the event.

“There were a few people lining up for previous public viewing events but it’s quite unusual to see this amount of people lining up so early,” said Kawashima.

Nozomi Sato, 57, took a half-day off from work to watch the competition at the hall. It was her fourth time attending a public viewing event.

“I couldn’t make it to Pyeongchang to see the competition so I came to the public viewing,” she said. “I can at least watch the skaters’ performances on a big 8K screen.”

To secure her spot in the hall, she arrived around 8:45 a.m.

“I knew it wouldn’t be easy to take a seat as Hanyu — whom everyone loves — was skating today,” she said.

While Sato is not even a big fan of Hanyu, she loves to watch skating competitions.

“I don’t just cheer Japanese skaters but foreign skaters too, so I got kind of tired cheering for everybody,” she said.

Sato said she has been interested in figure skating since she watched Shizuka Arakawa win the gold medal in the women’s event at the 2006 Turin Winter Olympic.

“By watching skating on the big screen, I can take a close look at each skater’s movement as well as the subtle facial expressions. I support all athletes regardless of their nationalities.”

Kaori Kaiho, a 47-year-old NHK producer, came to watch the public viewing event because she will be in charge of similar events at the Tokyo 2020 Olympics. But she is also an enthusiastic Hanyu fan and was impressed by his return from an injury that he sustained in November.

“I was really moved by his perfect performance,” said Kaiho. “It’s amazing that he came back in perfect condition after not being able to skate for two months.

“I really thought he wouldn’t be able to compete, and when I saw him practicing in Pyeongchang I was so scared of him making his injuries worse.”

Masao Sesaki, a 52-year-old marketing manager for Kotobuki Seating Co., who was watching the competition on his phone on his way to the office, said he was astonished by Hanyu’s performance.

“I couldn’t clearly see his performance as my screen is pretty small but I was really relieved when I saw his score,” said Sesaki. “I was actually worried about his injury, but the only thing I could do was to believe in him.

“I think Hanyu is really popular among Japanese because of his charismatic performances as well as his humble behavior. He looks like a prince even to me — from an old man’s point of view.”

“Maybe it’s because I’m old, but I’m easily moved when I see young people trying their best at the Olympics,” Sesaki added.

Sesaki said he would watch Saturday’s free skate on TV at his home with his wife, who is also a big fan of Hanyu.

“He will probably win a gold medal even if he fails a few times,” Sesaki said.