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Yuzuru Hanyu reflects on Olympic glory

by Kaz Nagatsuka

Staff Writer

Yuzuru Hanyu achieved his fairy-tale ending at the Pyeongchang Olympics, winning another gold medal while enduring the pain of the serious ankle injury he suffered in November.

Everyone knew he was still hurt when he took to the ice in South Korea, but few were aware of how much pain he was still in.

The 23-year-old superstar shed light on his ordeal while speaking at a jam-packed Foreign Correspondents’ Club of Japan in Tokyo on Tuesday, revealing his ankle was still far less than 100 percent when he competed on Feb. 16 and 17.

“We decided to use painkillers and managed to win the gold medal,” said Hanyu, who suffered a ligament injury in his right ankle during practice for the NHK Trophy. “I was able to reduce the pain by 20 to 30 percent thanks to my support staff.”

Hanyu became the first male figure skater in 66 years to win singles gold medals at consecutive Olympics. He said he was pleased about how he accomplished the feat, which was last achieved by American Dick Button, who won in 1948 and 1952.

Asked about the music he uses for his programs, Hanyu first said that he has not started to think about the programs he will perform next season. He then spoke about “Seimei,” a part of the soundtrack from the Japanese movie “Onmyoji,” to which he skated his free program at Gangneung Ice Arena.

Hanyu admitted earning Olympic gold while skating to Japanese sounds gave it extra value.

“It was a historic thing, because Asians haven’t really won at the Olympics,” Hanyu said. “Figure skating developed in Europe and then came to Asia afterward. There are differences between Europe and Asia in terms of the backgrounds and all that. And Asian skaters had disadvantages in expressive sports. With that all being said, it gave a historic impact (for an Asian) to win it with the Asian music.”

He played it safe during the Olympics by not attempting a quadruple loop on his injured ankle. But as he and his coach Brian Orser have already noted, Hanyu expressed his intention to challenge himself by trying a an unprecedented quadruple axel, and even a quintuple going forward.

Yet Hanyu had a hard time trying to explain how difficult a quadruple axel is compared to the other quadruple jumps he already has in his arsenal.

After taking a few moments, Hanyu managed to figuratively compare it with “doing a quadruple jump rope while spinning twice in the air.”

Hanyu also mentioned a potential radical rule change by the International Skating Union, the sport’s world governing body, that would bring more balance to the scores between the athletic and artistic sides of the sport.

Hanyu said he is aware of the potential modification. But he added he would continue to value the fundamental skill sets needed to showcase a complete performance on the ice.

The Sendai native insisted skaters can display better artistry based on high-level athletic techniques.

“Without that (techniques), you can’t showcase your artistry,” he said. “Therefore, I try to use the right skills whether it’s jumping or it’s spinning, and I value the chance to exhibit my artistry.”

While he spoke in a serious manner when it was about his performance in South Korea, Hanyu was more at ease when the discussion moved to off-ice topics.

For instance, Hanyu said he is not so particular about his diet, though he chooses to have rice rather than bread or pasta before competitions.

“I might be a little different from other athletes,” the four-time Grand Prix Final gold medalist said. “I go to McDonald’s, I like to drink soda, and I often have potato chips as well.”

Hanyu also detailed his pre-competition routines. He said he used to put on his skates with the right foot first. But then he once put his left skate on first and everything went well in that event. Since then, he doesn’t care about it anymore.

“So I don’t have anything that I feel I must do,” he said.

Hanyu looked pleased when speaking about his Spanish rival and friend Javier Fernandez, the bronze-medal winner who also trains in Toronto under Orser.

Hanyu jokingly said he was waiting for a Spanish media reporter to ask him about Fernandez because he knew Fernandez had always spoken fondly of him to the Japanese media.

“When I won the gold medal (at Pyeongchang), I wept,” Hanyu said. “It was actually (Fernandez) who turned the switch on. It had to do a little with the fact that he won a medal.”

Hanyu added that he had known Fernandez, who missed a podium finish at the 2014 Sochi Olympics, was striving to make it happen this time. So he was “so proud” and “glad” he captured the bronze medal at the Pyeongchang Games.

“I’ve trained over the last six years with him, giving inspiration to each other. And I’ve been so happy,” Hanyu said. “I wouldn’t have won this medal if it wasn’t for him.”