Article from SPUR magazine ‘Skating is Life!’ by sports writer Naoko Utsunomiya, translated by me:
…… 2016-17 season has started….. But when I first started writing this article, it was just after Hanyu had announced his music for this season. At the venue of the open practice (Toronto Cricket Club), he said, “I want to evolve even further.”
World Championship (Boston) in March 2016; after it ended, Hanyu could not be seen, to an extreme degree. He had plans to perform in ice shows, but in the end, his performances were all cancelled. In the shows, his video message was played, and in the audience, there were fans who were in tears. Some had their hands clasped together in front of their chest. I was moved at the sight. And then, I realised, I was also crying. Really, many people were waiting for his return.
“Please look forward to my new programmes!” It was August when we finally saw him, saying that with his refreshing smile. It was the news of the certification of his Guinness World Records for the short programme 110.95, free skate 219.48, and total score 330.43, achieved at Grand Prix Final 2015 in Barcelona, Spain. Of course, I already knew about this achievement, but watching him receive the certificates officially, I felt very proud.
“If only wings grew on my back”
The certification ceremony was actually planned to be held in spring. It was pushed to later because of waiting for him to recover from injury. Hanyu’s left foot recovered slowly. Because of that, he must have been deeply troubled. During days when he could not jump well, he mumbled, “If only wings grew on my back.”
In the past, I heard from skaters abroad, ‘if you are away from the rink for 3 days, the control of the body becomes difficult’. That is how complex figure skating is. For Hanyu, there was a period that he could not go into the rink at all. And there was a period that his jumps were limited. Jumps are supported by delicate balance. Hanyu must have fought against impatience and frustration. It would also affect the completion of the programmes (for competition). However, 4 months after Worlds, Hanyu is able to jump like he did before.
For me, I love his jumps which are like a dance in mid-air. They have great distance and are so beautiful. If I am allowed to be indulgent in expression, there are even times when he looks like he has wings. Perhaps, this is what first class skaters are like. On the ice, they are free, they can become anyone.
In any case, whether or not he has wings, Yuzuru Hanyu really seems to have had something special from way before. Of course, without something special, one cannot become an Olympic gold medalist. That he is very special, everyone already knows. However, I am going to talk about something from more than 10 years ago. When Hanyu was an elementary school student, he participated in a ‘national promising newcomers discovery camp’ (全国有望新人発掘合宿) held in Nagano. At that time, he was not very good at jumps (although it’s hard to think of that now). In his own words, he was a boy who was “only falling down”. “But in spite of that, I was kept on for some reason and I am grateful for that,” he said.
“An ordinary boy who continued to have an exceptionally cool dream”
Not anyone can participate in this camp; there are clear entry qualifications. It is a system to gather outstanding young skaters from all over the country and only a handful of them can advance to the end. ISU judge Nobuhiko Yoshioka (吉岡伸彦) who also served as supervisor for the Vancouver Olympics, said this when he thought back about the camp at that time. “It has always been a sport with very few people at competitive level. Generally so for girls, and for boys, it is really insufficient. To find a ‘promising newcomer’ is extremely difficult. It will vary from year to year, but out of 100 participants, the ones retained are 2 or 3 at most. It was that kind of feeling.”
In that small number, Hanyu was retained. He prevailed through the stringent selection tests. But there is no exciting story in there. Yoshioka said, “Talking about Hanyu, I have no memory of thinking ‘Oh this boy is amazing’. In his novice days, he was not very different from the others. They were sorted based on skating, jumps, overall ability, and a few were retained. Hanyu’s skating was beautiful and he was good at music expression. But at that point in time, he was not a skater that had great expectations put on him for the future.”
An informed person’s words have weight. Actually I like this episode a lot. The story did not end there. The ordinary child who was not very different from the others continued to have an exceptionally cool dream. Then 10 years later, that dream was fulfilled, the dream of ‘winning the Olympic gold medal’. Almost nothing is more exciting than this story and it was written by Hanyu.
At that training camp, what if there was a promising newcomer who stood out from the rest.
What if his skating did not catch their eye.
Perhaps the birth of a star, unexpectedly, starts in that way. From a very small chance, it goes on to change fate, like a rolling snowball. Yuzuru Hanyu has special strength. And he has the strength to draw good fortune to himself too.
– apologies to Utsunomiya-san if I did not translate it well enough. Much thanks to Charliebenbrown for sharing the article with me.