The government will confer the People’s Honor Award on two-time figure skating Olympic gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu, its top spokesman said Friday, making him the first figure skater to receive the honor.
Chief Cabinet Secretary Yoshihide Suga told a news conference that the presentation ceremony will be held on July 2 in Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s office.
Suga said the government appreciated Hanyu’s “historic achievement” that “gave dreams and thrills to the people and hope and courage to society.”
“I am humbled to be given such a prestigious prize. I hope this will be a bright light to the disaster-hit area and the skating world,” Hanyu said in a statement, referring to the Tohoku region, which took heavy damage along its Pacific coastline from the March 2011 mega-quake and tsunami. Hanyu is from Sendai.
The 23-year-old superstar also will be the youngest individual to receive the award.
Hanyu became the first male figure skater in more than six decades — since American Dick Button in 1952 — to win consecutive Olympic gold medals when he took gold at South Korea’s Pyeongchang Winter Games in February, despite injuring his right ankle last November.
Hanyu, who trains in Toronto, became the first man from Japan to win gold at the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia. He has also won two world championships and four Grand Prix Finals.
Hanyu, who started skating when he was 4, has faced a number of challenges in his life ranging from injuries during competition to the evacuation of his home after the magnitude 9.0 quake seven years ago. When it hit, he was practicing at Ice Rink Sendai.
In April, more than 100,000 fans took to the streets of downtown Sendai to watch his victory parade.
Kazuya Igarashi, 72, who was the staff adviser to the figure skating club at Tohoku High School when Hanyu was a student, hailed the news, saying, “This is the result of strong luck, effort and patience that made it possible for him to overcome his injuries and show performances that were super-human.”
A 34-year-old female fan who came to see a photo exhibition of the skater at the Sendai skating rink, where he was formerly based, praised him upon hearing the news.
“He is mature, strong-willed and his performance attracts people. Every time he overcomes challenges such as quake and injury, he gets stronger,” she said.
Established in 1977, the People’s Honor Award has been given to 25 individuals and one group for achievements in sports, entertainment and culture.
Other Olympic gold medalists to have received the award are judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita, wrestlers Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho and marathoner Naoko Takahashi.