Two-time Olympic figure skating gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu was bestowed with the People’s Honor Award on Monday, becoming the youngest individual recipient of the prize.
Prime Minister Shinzo Abe presented the award to the 23-year-old star skater in a ceremony at his office in Tokyo.
Hanyu became the first male figure skater in more than six decades to win consecutive Olympic gold medals when he topped the podium at the Pyeongchang Winter Games in South Korea in February, despite suffering a right ankle injury months before his performance.
“I have been gradually recovering from my injury. I want to steadily make preparations for competitions, while carefully managing my physical condition,” Hanyu told reporters after receiving the award.
In a rare move, Hanyu declined to receive a commemorative gift, saying he believes he has been awarded the national commendation as a representative of the people who made his success possible, including those who have cheered for him.
Asked about the prospect for the next Olympics in Beijing in 2022, Hanyu said, “I don’t really think about it,” adding he just wants to grow as a person and skater.
The Toronto-based star became the first-ever Japanese male skater to win Olympic gold at the 2014 Sochi Games in Russia. He has also won two world championship golds and four Grand Prix Final golds.
Hanyu has faced a number of difficulties in his skating life, including being forced to evacuate his home in Miyagi Prefecture in the wake of the Great East Japan Earthquake and tsunami that devastated northeastern Japan in 2011.
Expressing his appreciation for all the support he received from residents in the disaster-hit regions, Hanyu said he wants to give back to them through skating and become someone who can bring them together.
In the Grand Prix Series for the 2018-2019 season, Hanyu is expected to take part in the Nov. 2-4 event in Helsinki (formerly the Cup of China) and the Nov. 16-18 Rostelecom Cup in Moscow.
The People’s Honor Award was established in 1977 and has been given to 25 individuals and one group for their achievements in sports, entertainment and culture.
Before Hanyu, two champions of the Japanese traditional board games of shogi and go — Yoshiharu Habu and Yuya Iyama — were given the awards in February.
Other Olympic gold medalists to have received the award are judoka Yasuhiro Yamashita, marathon runner Naoko Takahashi and wrestlers Saori Yoshida and Kaori Icho.