Yuzuru Hanyu, the top athlete driving the figure skating world. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, he did not return to his training base in Canada but continued training all alone and marked his first victory in 5 years at the Japanese National Championships at the end of last year. In order to meet with Hanyu-senshu, who possesses extraordinary strength and artistry and is continuing to advance his craft, we travelled to Sendai, the city of forests overflowing with greenery.
[Figure skating] is a competition [judged] by the perfection and beauty of its moves/skills but, as you are judged by human beings, you have to put out performances that appeal to people with differing values. It’s because I have high standards for the details that I fixate on and am aware of [in my performance] that I can continue to give my all. Though it’s important how objectively I can evaluate myself, if I just fixate on what I want to express, I feel I’d only be able to put out self-centered performances, so a program can firstly only be complete if it can convey something to the audience. If it’s a happy program, I’d wish that the people watching could do their best the next day, and that it could prompt them to move forward in their hearts. If it’s a sad program, I’d like it to be a way for the people watching to connect with their pain and experiences. I’ve only lived 26 years, but I’d like to express my own story and feelings. Not only in relation to the past, but my feelings towards the future, and the things I’m experiencing currently… though it’s very varied.
Currently during your off-season, you are commuting every day to your practice rink. Can we ask you about your motivation?
The results of your hard work is everything. I think the number one happiness is the moment the results come. It’s not anything like ‘oh I’ll get to eat this or buy this if I work hard’ (laughs), it’s because I want to taste the happiness at that moment of accomplishment. Even if it’s a small goal, I try to follow through and accomplish something every day.
We’ve heard that though you’ve secured countless titles, you’ve never once thought that you were mentally strong?
Of course this happens at competitions but even at ice shows, I get so nervous that I feel sick and there are many nights I can’t sleep. But that’s because I have high ideals. So I can only give my everything. If I can live by the choice that I’ve judged as the best one, not only in practice but during times of rest and including occasionally when I’m not even thinking about anything, I think you will definitely become stronger, even if you don’t get the results you wanted at the time.
You’ll often bring pressure onto yourself by saying things like ‘I’ll win the next competition!’
It’s because I believe I can do it. I think putting my wishes into words has a good impact on my mind. When I feel like I’m going to be crushed down, I change that to motivation and keep working hard. Though I do get overwhelmed and there are times my stomach hurts, I hope I can turn that power in a good direction. It’s because I get nervous that I can, single-mindedly, concentrate and tackle problems head on.
To be honest, I wasn’t thinking about it like that; on the contrary, I feel that it’s not a good thing to be stereotyped as persevering and polite because we’re Japanese. And I think there are people who have a complex against that. It’s because everyone is different from each other that they are good. When I meet with foreign athletes, there are differences in our values and each person’s attitudes towards skating is varied. But ultimately, when it comes time to do something together, we can unite. That is the sort of diverse society that Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) stand for, and something I think is very important.
Last September, you graduated from the Human Sciences e-School course at Waseda University after studying for 7 years.
In skating and also in studying, knowledge is important. In regards to SDGs’ activities as well, I did research into items that attempt to keep the limited resources in our natural environment sustainable and I want to choose those kinds of products [to use]. I’m personally interested in the problem of rubbish, so I try to normally carry around reusable bottles in training. Even though it may be small, I think one way to keep moving forward is to ask myself what I can do.
From the outset of the conversation, he showed his concern for Ikee, saying, ‘I’ve felt this whole time that though she’s young, she’s had to shoulder the weight of various things and has worked really hard. Of course, there was dealing with her own illness*, but also wanting to give courage to others who were also sick and wanting to get better, all of those things. While I feel that she doesn’t have to bear all of that weight, it’s perhaps because she’s carried these burdens that she is strong.’
*Ikee was diagnosed with leukemia at 19yrs old in February 2019.
Ikee replied: ‘It’s true that I’m carrying the knowledge that I shouldn’t shoulder these burdens. After recovering, I’ve felt at all races that I’m almost like a representative for those who have been ill.’
Hanyu: “I think at the time, it weighed on me very heavily.”
The worry of the illness and the recovery last year. Ikee, who seemed to recover and return as a competitor in the blink of an eye, had been shouldering burdens unbeknownst to others. From afar, Hanyu could sympathise with this. It’s because even now, he has also been shouldering a heavy weight that fate had laid upon him.
“Even now, I try wherever possible to accept requests to help out with [financial] support and recovery in the affected region, but at the time I thought of it as an incredibly heavy weight. The natural disaster suddenly happened and then when it was thought that I was chosen to be the representative of Japan [in figure skating] only because I was someone doing my best in the affected disaster area, I felt very frustrated.”
Though she was initially a little tense and nervous in front of the two-time Winter Olympic champion, through a combination of the kindness, warmth and especially strength conveyed through Hanyu’s words to her, Ikee also was able to open up.
In addition, the conversation topics included how to prepare for the Olympics, recent and past frustrations and regrets, times when they cried alone, and how to overcome those difficulties now. It’s because they are both top athletes that they could trade notes on all these topics.
It’s a gem of a conversation you’d want to listen to, anywhere and anytime.
The ice show “Dreams on Ice” was held on the 9th at Kose Shin-Yokohama Skate Center in Yokohama. Sochi ‘14 and Pyeongchang ‘18 gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu (ANA) took part for the first time in six years, unveiling his program “Masquerade,” starting off a new season. The interview questions with him are as follows.
― (Your thoughts on) This being your first appearance at DOI in six years.
Yuzuru: Um, well, I strongly felt that I wanted to skate in front of everyone. Last year there weren’t ice shows, and so I wanted to skate more in front of an audience. Also, last season when I participated in competitions, I thought that perhaps my performances could be useful for someone; that perhaps they could feel something from it. So with that in mind, I wanted to try for everyone’s sake. I want to take the opportunity to skate in as many places as possible, so I decided to participate in Dreams on Ice this time.
Y: Of course, I personally received a lot [of power]. I received it and then changed it into power for my performance, and maybe everyone watching will pass this on in turn in another form. I’m already exhausted after this one performance so I hope this may be the impetus for some sort of emotion in everyone.
― What is the current state of the quad Axel, which you cited as your ultimate goal right now?
Y: Firstly, Dreams on Ice is the first ice show in awhile where I’ve had to do two performances in one day. I thought that I must prepare my body and focus on this ice show so I haven’t been able to practise my quad Axel until now. After Stars on Ice, there was the toll that it took on my body, the need to take care of my body that had worked hard last season, there was practice on the foundations of the axel, and the need to do the work to properly rebuild my body for the quad Axel from square one; I’d like to start concretely practising for the season ahead from here on out.
― Regarding next season’s programs, have you decided on your SP?
Y: The music is decided. But, the editing is not done, so I cannot announce it yet.
― Will the free program [from last season] continue on?
Y: Yes, I am thinking I want to keep the free (program) “Ten to Chi to”.
― What is the reason you decided to compete in the GP Series again after two seasons?
Yuzuru: Without the chance to be in competition, I think even if I land the quad Axel, it’s pointless. I strongly feel I want to land it in competition. I thought that I should take as many opportunities as I can in that regard, and so I decided to participate in the Grand Prix series [this season].
― You decided on NHK Trophy and Rostelecom Cup [for your GP competitions]
Y: When they decided I would compete at the NHK Trophy, I felt it would definitely be either Rostelecom Cup, Skate Canada or the Cup of China. I was 3rd at the World Championships so I didn’t have any particular say in it.
―Once again, what are your thoughts on the Beijing Olympics?
Y: I don’t particularly have the same feelings that I absolutely must get the gold medal like I did during the season of Pyeongchang (Olympics). However, I am very determined to definitely land the quad Axel this season. I will take up that challenge this season with that resolve and determination.
― What is the reason you performed “Masquerade” today?
Y: Well, I haven’t had many chances to perform this program. But also, since that time [I first did the program], I’ve become more of an adult, and I think there is more I want to express, and given the current state of the world, there is more I think that can be objectively felt from the program, so with those thoughts in mind, I wanted to perform it again, so I chose this program.
― Will your training base this season be in Japan?
Y: First, in order to return to Canada now, there are many difficult procedures involved. I’m not certain whether it is even possible or not, but for the time being, based on my experiences from last season, I feel that I can grow even if training on my own, so I am not thinking of returning to Canada at the moment. However, I think with regards to the choreography, that it will be done with remote assistance [from Canada].
― The upcoming Tokyo Olympics has been decided to be held without spectators. How do you feel about this?
Y: I am coming from the standpoint of an athlete. To put it bluntly, the audience…in regards to whether the audience can convey their support or travel [to watch] in person, I can’t really speak to that. But if I can speak from an athlete’s standpoint, the Olympics are a dream stage for many athletes, I think the final dream stage they long for the most. I don’t think the fact they will give everything they have on that stage will change. It’s the fact that it’s during times like this – we [skaters] call it a ‘performance’ – but I think it’s precisely because it’s during these [difficult] times that [watching events like] races and whatnot can result in something touching and emotional.
Men’s single skater Yuzuru Hanyu (ANA) gave an online interview before his exhibition appearance. After his last competition of the season, he spoke for about 10 minutes and answered each question as follows.
―What did you gain/learn this season? And what do you still need to work on now that the season is over?
Yuzuru: Hmm… this might become a little abstract. Well, the first time I came in third place at the World Championships was just about nine years ago now. Once again, I was thinking the same kind of things I thought at the time, as it is the 10 year anniversary of 3.11 now. The reason for this is that this time, there were things like the period of self-isolation [because of the pandemic], and also I withdrew from competitions. While I was doing those things, and watching the news, I felt how bad the COVID situation is, and I spent the time wondering about various things like, how we are supposed to confront it, and how people are each suffering in different ways during this time. Somehow, from there… Hmm. I still think the best way to deal with it is to have zero cases if possible, after all. But, (since that’s not possible), we have to keep going, and we have to face and deal with many things. In a way, for me, it’s not about my 4A, but that I feel I need to challenge myself and that I need to put together the best plan of action. Ah, my answer is becoming a little hard to follow. Let me see… In this context, I think about when I was coming up with my own comments on the 10th anniversary of 3.11. How painful was it? What kind of pain was it? Or, how many really want to remember it? Surely there are those who don’t want to be reminded of it, and I was thinking about all these various things. And I thought to myself, “Isn’t this the same as the current situation with COVID?,” and so ultimately, I came to a conclusion, in the season that 3.11 happened, and the season after it as well. I was much, much younger at the time. I didn’t want to be a representative of the disaster-stricken area, and I didn’t want to be labelled as such because I was a member of the Japanese national team, and I had won the spot with my own abilities. I was thinking strongly then, that I wanted to win various things on my own. But in the end, I began to feel a great sense of gratitude, and I realized that I was the one who was being supported by the people, and that I was not in a position to support them, but rather they were supporting me. I was able to feel those things again this time. Somehow…hm. This became a bit of a rambling answer. As a result of everything, I felt that maybe it’s okay for me to keep skating. If I can find some kind of meaning in my skating, I think that’s a sign that it’s okay for me to exist.
―What was the significance of practising your 4A in practice and your response?
Yuzuru: I totally didn’t expect the audience to be there. After the Free Skate, there was the fact my body wasn’t that tired. I thought maybe it would be worthwhile to do it at the competition venue. The other reason is that I think I’ll be going back to training alone and I think it’s easier to get a better mental picture jumping it when you’re motivated by the presence of other really talented athletes. But when I actually tried it, the jump was nowhere near my best attempts so I’m really frustrated. I have better ones, really! Truthfully I think I’m closer [that that]. But um, to tell you the truth I’m really really frustrated because I couldn’t do a good jump. So using that frustration as a springboard, though it looks like it’ll be a tough period ahead, I’ll really make intense preparations and analyse various things with a cooler head, and I want to keep pushing past my limits.
―During yesterday’s practice, when you two-footed the double Axel landing, you said, ‘That’s good.’
Y: From the beginning yesterday, my jumps didn’t [feel as] light. The rotations were totally insufficient and I kept jumping 4As that felt off to me. When I popped it into a double Axel at the end, I thought I was finally starting to get a feel of the ice. Finally I was getting the height so I told myself, ‘now rotate it’. After all, if it gets too high, your body instinctively tries to protect itself. It’s also a jump where it’s indeed difficult to balance both the height and rotation, so that comment I made was tied to that [fact] as well.
―Next season, your Free Skate Program will be ‘Ten to Chi to,’ but will you return to a piano piece for your Short Program?
Y: Ummm. To tell you the truth, I’m thinking about it. It’s not just about wanting to go back to a piano piece. I think this program [Let Me Entertain You] was created because of the current situation. You could say it was created precisely because I wanted to do this kind of program that suited the current circumstances. I have to consider how the circumstances will pan out and also how my own feelings will change with it. Also, beyond just doing the skating, I think I’ll pick the program thinking about what I want to express.
―The 4A is hard on your body, so how will you take care of it while you can’t go to Canada?
Yuzuru: Well, for the time being, I am thoroughly taking care of it myself. And there are a lot of people who can help me as well. There is also a lot of information available on the Internet. I’d like to take care of myself to the best of my ability by accumulating various kinds of knowledge.
Y: We’ll only know next season when next season comes. [Seems to be distracted by something else]. Just, um… hehe…. Sorry. We’ll only know about next season when it comes, so there’s nothing I can do about it. Um, well…. Hmmm… hehehe, I can’t. I got a little distracted, for a moment. Hmmm. I’ll think about [next season] when it’s time. I’m sorry!
―At that time, we would like to have the opportunity to speak with you again.
Y: Hehehe… But yes, I will. When I’m asked for comments again, I’ll try my best to come up with different words from my head. That’s something…. Well, I’m not a professional with words and I’d rather express myself with skating, so I hope I can find a way to do that.
―You said you go back and forth between the ice rink and the home, but how do you spend your time at home?
Y: Let’s see. Well… When I’m at home… (first thing) is waking up. Hehehe… I wake up in the morning, um, and then immediately clean*. Then, until food is ready, I’ll do things like image training, checking my form, and so on. After eating, I do some care for my body. I go to practice, come home, take a bath, do some care, eat, then sleep… that’s the kind of schedule I have.
Y: Ah, I do play video games. I’m addicted to Monster Hunter right now. (The one that just came out?) Yes. Yes, I’m playing it. Thank you very much. I was able to say something a little like [what you’d find] in a sports magazine. Hehehe.
Thank you very much. and I look forward to working with you again. I’ll do my best.
―You said your inner balance fell apart in the free, but there were also reports that your asthma flared up?
Yuzuru: I think I felt the asthma attack itself a little bit after the free skate. But, after it ended, I thought it was a bit painful, but well, I wasn’t late to coming to the rink for that reason in particular. It’s rather, there were a few small troubles that kept stacking up. Well, in the 6 minute warm-up, I didn’t feel any effects from that, but ultimately, I think all those small things ended up making everything fall apart. In my mind, I’m certain of the cause. Having said that, if asked whether that was what led to that huge mistake [in the free program], I don’t think it was as big of a miss as it was in terms of the miss in the score. It’s just within myself, one by one, little by little, everything started to come apart. That’s why, even more so than things like the placements and scores was the feeling within myself that I had properly completed the program.
— What are your feelings aiming towards the Beijing Olympics?
Y: Mmm. It’s not anything like whether or not I want to quit competing but it’s a bit like I’ll never be satisfied for my whole life if I don’t jump the 4A hehehe. Of course, there are days where, for a period, I’ll be thinking things about my age and the fact my physical fitness is diminishing, but right now, I’m proceeding with the feeling that I’m not done yet, that there are still ways I can grow and evolve. Of course, it’s easy to compare absolute results and well, in my instance, my previous glories or achievements. If you compare with my past accomplishments and ask whether I’m still holding onto them, that might be difficult to answer. However, there is no doubt I have improved and become better, definitely more than at the Pyeongchang Olympics  and at the Helsinki World Championships . So I don’t feel like I’ve hit my limit yet. Rather, it’s a question of how I overcome moments in which I may feel like this is my limit. Well, from here on there’s the World Team Trophy though I’m saying this while the World Team Trophy isn’t on my mind right now. I’ve decided that I’ll be practising the 4A in the off season. And while practicing for the 4A, there will be questions like how to overcome the times where I feel like I can’t jump it or when I’m hitting a wall, how to give myself the morale boost to keep going. Right now, I feel like I must think about those things, and leverage the knowledge and experience I currently have in order to prevail.
Yuzuru: Um, yesterday, after the competition ended I returned with Brian and after that I got some emails too. Well, there’s various things we can try. However, none of that is definitive. But, well, Brian and the others are looking forward to teaching me at the Cricket Club any time, and told me that they’d like to skate together with me again soon. However, things are still uncertain within my thoughts and I can’t decisively say I will return to Canada. After all, this season, I learned quite a lot from training by myself. I think it’s precisely because I trained alone that I was able to learn those things, and also I’m at a stage where I’m doing quite a lot of the quad Axel-related practice on my own, and I’ve learned various things in doing that. So, um, yes, for example, when training with other people, if I try to work on the quad Axel, there might be times where there are others in the trajectory of the jump, and it would distract me. Also, things like the condition of the ice. Those kinds of things, I don’t have to worry about when I train on my own. I can really concentrate on the jumps. Also, practicing along with the music is something unique about figure skating. There’s an order to that [in group settings], and a priority order in which the music tracks are played. For instance, there’s a rule that those who have a competition coming up can practice quite a bit [with the music], but those who don’t have a competition coming up yet cannot. I’ve been practicing now without all of that, and it’s really flexible in that I can practice what I want to, and according to a training plan I come up with. I think it’s a question of how to take that into account. Something also [to consider] is the condition of my body. Without a doubt, since coming back here, or rather, ever since I’ve returned to Japan which is indeed quite a long period of time, I haven’t visited the doctor* who helps me with [off-ice] care back in Toronto. I think, for sure, I am starting to wear out. And since I’m working on the quad Axel, I’m putting quite a lot of strain in various places, like my feet, legs, neck, etc. So I think I’ll have to weigh this up while thinking about my decision as well, so that’s why it’s difficult to say right now whether I’ll go back [to Canada], or stay in Japan.
*T/N: Unclear what kind of doctor, or possibly physio, etc.
Y: I didn’t have any feelings in particular, to be honest. Um… of course, I think [Nathan] Chen is amazing and to be able to complete a program with all 5 highly difficult quads with that quality is no ordinary feat. I think these are the fruits of his hard work. However this time, the main thing I was feeling was preventing infection and―including the two weeks of quarantine we have to do when we return― about finishing the World Championships in good health. In any case, the situation in my hometown is not good so I have a strong desire to both not spread infection myself and not be infected. Precisely because that was my number one goal this time, in my mind, it wasn’t something as simple as going up against Nathan, and I didn’t really have something like any straightforward strategy. It was more like… how do I put it, more than a competition against myself, there was an element of fighting the coronavirus this time. I’m not really concerned about it. More anything else, the number one thing I’m happy and relieved about is securing the 3 [Olympic] spots for Japan. Because I’m the Japanese National Champion, I had a strong sense of duty to fight for the Olympic spots, and it was a strong reason for competing here. The big thing was that I properly contributed to securing 3 spots for Japanese Men. I haven’t really thought about anything else.
―You said you’ll think about the Beijing Olympics in the course of pursuing the quad Axel, but, in other words, if you land the (quad) Axel, are you going to retire?
Y: Hahaha. Asking so bluntly! Ahh, I don’t know. Well, even if I talk about when I land the (quad) Axel, it’ll depend on how that happens. Whether I myself am satisfied with it or not. The fact I’m working on the quad Axel with so much effort, with so much focus, and making it my goal, is also in the end, I think, based on whether I can be satisfied within my own heart or not. So, if I’ll be satisfied with having jumped it, perhaps I’ll think about it. However, as I said during the earlier interview as well, this Yuzuru Hanyu is, without a doubt, still improving. Hehe. Indeed getting better. For instance, if you compare my [current] elements to that of Helsinki Worlds, certainly, there was one jump less. And in the second half [of the program], instead of a [quad] Salchow, it was a [quad] Toe Loop. I think the probability of skating a clean program, or something like the strength to not fall apart, are better than they were then. Also, I’ve become able to aim [for these kinds of programs], whereas that time [in Helsinki] it was by chance; I felt like I had been able to get into the “zone”. Now, I’ve become able to aim for this, and I think I’m really improving in that regard, actually. Of course, there are times I can’t put out a [good] result and it’s difficult. Regarding my performances this time, yes, there were jumps that didn’t get [good] scores, and I think the performance didn’t either. But beyond scores, these were performances where I felt that ah, the training I did wasn’t wrong. That’s why, for me, there’s not really the feeling that I should quit because I’ve reached my limits or anything.
Y: I said this in Fuji TV’s interview earlier but in any case, this is just in my mind but I do want to put the 4A in ‘Ten to Chi to’. Well, I created this program with that desire. Therefore – though I haven’t completely decided yet – I feel that I want to skate ‘Ten to Chi to’. After all, I’ve barely had any competitions this season. I want to show more of the good parts of this program. And I think once the 4A is added, its impression will completely change. It’s for those reasons, I want to perfect this little one.*
*T/N: Yuzu is metaphorically referring to ‘Ten to Chi to’ as though it’s a child.
―How often are you jumping the 4A in a day? How much of it can you do?
Y: Um, if I can just rotate about ⅛ more, I can get it, without doubt. I can land it. So until I can get there, I have been pushing my body and there have been points of pain that are appearing little by little. The damage is definitely accumulating. And then you asked how long I was training it? Let’s see…but… there was a question before [in a past interview] about when I decided to abandon plans for the quad Axel in this competition, and I said three days. Truthfully, I had thought to myself that the limit was that I had to land it by the end of February or I couldn’t put it in. If I landed it by February, I decided I would add it; if I landed even just one, I decided I would put it in the program. But, I couldn’t land it by the end of February, and so I extended the deadline until now. Around that time, I was indeed working like hell. I didn’t jump any of the other jumps, just the Axel. For two hours on end. Of course, I wasn’t jumping the 4A the entire time, but there were indeed quite a few two hour sessions where I only jumped Axels. I think on average about 45 minutes. Thank you very much. It’s been a tough day for everyone. Thank you. I ask for your support again.
―Could you please offer some thoughts on your free program performance?
Yuzuru: Ah, well, I kind of wasn’t able to get into the flow of things. However, um, as a whole it didn’t go well, but, um, I wasn’t able to get what I wanted the most at all, which was a (high) GOE. However, throughout the whole thing, I was able to manage everything as smaller mistakes, and I think maybe my ability to do that has improved.
―So this season has been truly an unusual one, and we think you must have had a hard time continuing to compete while on your own. The competition this time was also held with no audience present, so it’s different from usual competitions. What kind of World Championship is it for you?
Y: Well, to be honest, I’m frustrated but, um, I think it was a competition where I learned a lot, and really, I’d like to get back to skating right away, but… I think if there is a next opportunity, I want to properly focus on doing a good performance then.
―We are looking forward to then. So, this season there were very few competitions, but there are fans who are hoping there will be more competitions next season if the world situation gets better, and there are also many fans who are eagerly anticipating the quad Axel. So, if you could speak about your vision heading into next season, as much as you can.
Y: Well, heading to this competition, I intended to practice the quad Axel quite a lot. Well, it’s not like I landed it, but it’s at the point where there’s been a lot of instances where it’s finally become quite a “quad Axel-like” jump, so, heading into next season, I’d like to properly practice that. And also… um, working on the quad Axel means you have to really overwork your body and whatnot, so I hope I can continue to evolve while properly taking care of myself so as not to get injured.
What are your thoughts, looking back on your performance?
Well… um, I was very tired. It was really like my balance was crumbling piece by piece. I did what I could to prevent myself from falling but well, one by one, uncharacteristic jumps kept continuing so it really was hard.
Hm, for now we don’t know what will happen at the next competition but, um, if there is time to do so I’d like to quickly practice my quad Axel – firstly land it, increase its degree of perfection and get it ready for competition – that’s my goal for now.
Were [the mistakes] on the 3A today influenced by 4A training? Your opening 4Lo was also off balance
Yes, the overall feeling wasn’t bad. There wasn’t really a trend or pattern like this in practice but well… it felt like there was an instance where the balance within me collapsed all of a sudden. In terms of the Axel, there is the factor of the quad Axel there but mm, more than that it was more like what I just said about being in a state where that balance was crumbling very quickly. Um… you could say it was my own sense of equilibrium or balance; it felt like I wasn’t able to grasp the axis of the jumps properly the entire time. However, I don’t think this is a huge problem, it was just feeling out of balance bit by bit so, well, I think I was able to do the things I had worked hard on in training and the things I was watching out for during practice.
Yuzuru Hanyu (ANA), the winner of the All-Japan Figure Skating Championships and the consecutive winner of the Olympic Games in Sochi ’14 and Pyeongchang ’18, gave a joint interview after the men’s medalist press conference on the 26th, and talked about his innermost thoughts.
Q: Are you thinking of anything (career-wise) after the World Championships (next year)?
A: First of all, for me, the biggest thing is whether the World Championships will actually happen.
Well, first of all, being able to use my body is the most important. Because training on the quad Axel has a big impact (on my body) after all. Well, it’s not something that I can practice consistently, so to some extent, I have to train properly and build up my body. Well, I had decided not to do a quad Axel in my training for this competition. How can I put it, I’ve building up my body to prepare for the competition, so I think now my sense of the Axel has been changing once again, but as soon as this competition is over, after my body recovers, I will make sure to build my body to suit the quad Axel, and then train for it, then see how much I can do with the quad Axel. I haven’t been able to do it yet. I’m trying to quickly bridge the gap between my current image of the Axel and my body as soon as possible. I think it depends on how well I can execute it after I’ve become able to do it. Well, more than anything else, I don’t know if the World Championships will be held yet. I don’t know how next season’s competitions, including the Grand Prix, will go. Anyway, my current feeling is that I want to put out the best effort I can while keeping an eye on the situation of the world. Beyond that, I don’t know yet.
Q: Is there anything you felt was important or difficult while practicing without a coach?
A: Yes, I think there are absolutely aspects where I can’t be completely objective about when I’m by myself. Like when we’re talking like this, or when this becomes various articles in newspapers or the news (on TV), and I watch myself speaking through television. Similar to when I do that and am like ‘ah, it would have been good if I had said in this way’, or ‘I should’ve said this’, it’s the same in skating where there are parts you cannot be objective about when alone. So I think having a coach is an incredibly important thing, insofar as being able to provide new points of view and ones outside of your own. On the flipside though, I think precisely because I have an abundant amount of experiences, because I have more experiences compared to other athletes, it’s easier for me to have a more objective point of view about things like how I break down [under pressure], how I can produce good performance, how it becomes a bad performance, that sort of thing. So while reflecting on various things, even while being without a coach, I think I was able to leverage those experiences and connect my actual performance at Japanese Nationals this time with the training I was aiming for up until this point.
Q: About your planned layout. Up until now, you’ve put your combinations in the second half of the program. This time it was slightly front-loaded. What is the point of this? And what about your layout if you add the quad Axel?
A: Well if I did add the 4A I think it’d be my first jump. To put it simply, the reason for putting a combination in the first half is because the rate of success is higher there. Before deciding on this layout, there was originally a period where I couldn’t jump the loop. I couldn’t even jump the Salchow, and the toe-loop was in a dicey condition, so there was a period where I was in no position to put quads in the second half. Precisely because of that, I was in the process of putting a combination in the first half. So I went with that flow and then slowly while practising, I became able to jump the loop again – the Salchow was of course stabilised and then I stabilised my loop little by little, so I thought okay, I can put the loop and Salchow in my FS program layout. I did think about doing 2 toe-loop combinations in the second half and doing an Axel combination as the last jumping pass, too. Right now, if I look at the Free Program as a whole, instead of making the last jumping pass a combination, the Axel combination in the first half looks better – I think that’s the primary reason. Starting from the sound of the koto at that point [in the program], the mood picks up, I jump the Axel and then the loop, but originally I thought about making it a solo Axel jump, then solo loop, otherwise a 3Lz solo jump. Somehow I felt that the music creates a feeling of a bigger wind soaring through, so the jump that would express it best would be a 3A with a rippon 2T and then leading into the 3Lo with that momentum, which is the reason for putting it in the first half this time.
Q: The Beijing 2022 Olympics are getting closer. What’s your position on it at the moment?
A: This is speaking frankly but in the current situation where the Tokyo Olympics cannot go ahead, in my personal opinion, we’re not in a position to be thinking about the Winter Olympics. Of course, there are sponsors, commercials, and because this is an event where so many countries compete, of course there is a lot of money involved in that. Because of that I think there is a whole world that we don’t know. However, I’m not involved in that. As a single competitive figure skater, the Olympics is not a sport festival or event but, as an athlete, my ultimate goal. If we only think from that perspective, I’d like the Olympics to go ahead and of course I’d like to participate and win. However, against the backdrop of that, the current reality is that even the Tokyo Olympics cannot be held. Even if postponed, we still don’t know how it will turn out. For example, if we’re in a situation where taking the vaccine is compulsory or whether the audience will be able to attend… And also, balancing the cost, whether the Olympics is something that should be held. Truly, I think there are many people thinking about various factors, with a lot of different opinions. Therefore, within all of that, I’ve personally stopped myself from thinking about the Olympics, my ultimate goal. Therefore, rather than thinking whether or not I’ll participate, whether or not I’ll continue to compete until then, it’s more like I’m shutting down my thoughts about that a little right now.
Q: What is the ultimate goal of your skating career?
A: In any case, I’d like to land the 4A in competition. That’s the ultimate goal I’ve said countless times. However, this time, with such a long period of training alone, the difficulty of the 4A… Firstly, I wonder if I will be able to get there. When I think about how there were times when I felt like it was almost a wild fantasy, I won’t say there weren’t times where I wondered if it was okay to make this my ultimate goal. However, if I were not to lie to my own heart then, if I did not try to get there, truthfully speaking, my reason for skating… In this society, in this current situation, it feels like my reason for training, the reason for wanting to keep skating would vanish. So that’s why I’m still pushing ahead against the impregnable wall known as my 4A, though the hurdle is very high. It’s a wall so tall to the extent that it feels like there are no handholds or anything. Even so, I don’t want to leave it as just a dream. I will absolutely grasp it in my hands, and I want to look beyond that wall where there are no other walls. I think that may be the only reason I am able to skate in this current situation.
Q: What about the current status of the (quad) axel?
Q: Once the COVID19 situation improves, will you go back to your training base overseas?
A: Well, to be honest, I don’t know how the world will be. However, to confirm, I don’t think the training I’ve done thus far has been wrong. Um, in the end since I was able to apply the various things I have experienced thus far, and finally like a “veteran”, I was able to accumulate the [efforts of] various training, and without doubt as this was reflected in the results of this competition, I think I can finally say I did my best. And so, the training plan of a four-quad free program including a quad loop from this time will become a strong foundation for the sake of the quad Axel later. I think for now, making that go well should be the only thing I think about. Regardless of whether that will happen upon returning to Toronto or in Japan, and improving my body, my senses, and my technical and physical fitness is definitely something I think I know best. In any case, in the last one year I have gone through a lot of trial and error. That’s why, to utilize [what I learned from] that, whether it’s in Japan or in Canada, first I want to put in the work in training to improve the technical aspects needed to rotate and land a quad Axel. Is this okay? Did that answer the question?
Q: (This year) You graduated from university. Aside from training, what other kinds of things did you do during the pandemic?
A: Well, the time I spent with my family greatly increased. Usually I’m in Toronto and it’s not often that my whole family is able to get together and spend time. And by this it’s not that it was fun to be together like this, but rather we were able to think together about skating. Above all else, I thought that being supported by my whole family while I was skating is a great fortune. And, yes, I didn’t really go out, since I wasn’t doing anything but skating. Although (saying I was) doing nothing except skating might be a bit of an exaggeration. I did not go out at all, aside for skating. Um, that’s right. I felt maybe I was able to focus more on skating than when I was in Toronto. And… what else was there? Ah, university. Fortunately I was able to graduate from university. Regarding my thesis, yes, I might present it someday, I might not. I’m not really sure about that. I did as much research as I could think of, and of course there were connections to the training that I myself have done up until now. Above all, I thought that maybe [with my research*] the rules [of skating] would become easier to understand, it would have to. Perhaps in the future, [after] performing to where I’m satisfied, I’ll retire from competition, become a professional [skater], become a coach/mentor, etc. So, in that progression, if that kind of technology is needed, there’s that option too. After all, I think that as a top athlete, [it would be good] to become a means of opening up something new.
*T/N: Yuzuru is referring to his graduation thesis in which he explored the topic of 3D motion capture technology being applied to figure skating, and he stated his hope that in the future there could be AI-based scoring incorporating new technology. He talked about his thesis and thoughts on his university career in his recent article featured in Waseda University’s Campus Now magazine; translation can be found here.
2014 Sochi and 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu (ANA) secured his 5th Japanese National Champion title with a score of 215.83 in the Free Skate and an overall score of 319.36. These are his comments in an interview with Fuji TV after the performance.
A: Firstly, while looking at it objectively… I think it’s significant that I was able to properly believe in the training I did and trust the feeling in my body. More than anything yesterday – though it was in part precisely because it was that type of program – there were parts in that first competition where I had exerted a bit too much power, so frankly, it’s good that I was able to feel that yesterday.
Q: You began the program with a 4Lo and then a 4S and it scored you high marks A: Well, firstly when it comes to the loop jump, it’s very difficult to get flow from that jump. For me, it’s been awhile since I’ve maintained the flow and completed the loop jump with positive GOE. It’s a point that I am very happy about. In regards to the Salchow and toe-loop, they are jumps I have a lot of confidence in and two jumps that have accompanied me for many years* so I had confidence and completed them.
*T/N: Here, his language sort of personifies his jumps as people/things who’ve been ‘doing’ skating together with him so we’ve tried to express that feeling through the translation
Q: What kind of feelings have you put into this program?
A: The setting of this music features Lord Uesugi Kenshin.* In any case, I myself like competing, and in the act of competing itself, how to put it, the fun of it is in things like (figuring out) how to focus, and these kinds of exciting things are what I can’t get enough of. However, in all of that, (there are feelings like) fighting and still not winning, or (things) you can say are painful, like being consumed by anguish. Also, like when I come in first place, someone else will be 2nd or 3rd, and I am feeling that it is like there is a “sacrifice,” or a cost, so I am somewhat influenced by Lord Kenshin’s overall sense of values he held towards battle. Right now, in this world, there may be many things people have to fight against, so it would be nice if everyone could come to see something like a “core” or will within themselves as they head into battle (upon watching this program).
*T/N: Referring to 16th century/medieval Japanese warlord Uesugi Kenshin who ruled over part of northern Japan. The music for his free program this time is taken from a 1969 taiga genre (historical) drama called “Heaven and Earth” about Kenshin. In an earlier comment, Yuzuru pointed out that he resonates with Kenshin’s overall view of battle/competition as always having come with a cost, or a “sacrifice.” Earlier comment was translated here.
2014 Sochi and 2018 Pyeongchang Olympic gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu (ANA) secured his 5th Japanese National Champion title after 5 years with a score of 215.83 in the Free Skate and an overall score of 319.36. After his performance, he answered some questions in an online interview.
Q: (Your feelings) After ending the short & free programs
A: Last year, I was pretty frustrated, so I think it’s good I was able to get a little revenge, but, well, more than anything else, ultimately, hmm, in these kind of circumstances, [I felt] bad about calling [my] coach would be kind of bad*, so more than anything, um, if it’s something I can handle on my own, I internally decided that, given the current circumstances, I shouldn’t call my coach if I wanted to be able to go into the competition with confidence. Well, in these conditions, [I thought] being able to do a good performance like this was really good. And also, even though I have been working alone, I want to express my gratitude to the many who have supported me thus far.
*T/N: Our guess is that he is trying to express that he does not want to trouble his coaches during the current circumstances since he can handle it on his own.
Q: What are the difficulties of doing things (i.e. practice, training) alone?
A: For instance, last season, there was Uno-senshu who competed in the Grand Prix series by himself* and amidst all that I felt that certainly that must be difficult to do. Also, I myself had a little trouble [last year] at the Grand Prix Final with my coach*, and I had to do the short program alone, and I had the experience of that not going well. Ultimately, [this year], my doubts and worries have increased a lot by doing everything all by myself for this long period of time, but although I’m doing it alone, it’s precisely because of the fact that I’ve been training alone that I was again able to feel that somehow, somewhere I’m connected [to others]. This time too, [I’ve received] support from afar, and of course this includes things like messages and words I’ve received, and conversely, not just these kinds of tangible things but, I think there are also many who are sending me support from very far away, so above all I very much want to express my gratitude to them.
*T/N: Referring to skater Shoma Uno who competed without a coach for part of last season.
**T/N: Referring to how in GPF 2019, Coach Ghislain was to be accompanying Yuzuru but ended up getting delayed due to his passport getting stolen.
Q: (With your efforts being rewarded) in the free program, what is your response?A: First, well, in this program I myself have great attachment to it. If I listen to the music I get very emotional. Of course, in each individual movement there are various meanings imbued into them. However, in all of that, if the jumps are not completed as well, I think what I want to convey with the program as a whole with its flow does not come across. So, although it was the first competition [of the season], with regard to things like what I wanted to convey, I think I was able to show a little of what I wanted to in this program, as the jumps were not interrupted.
A: For me, something happened at last year’s Japanese Nationals and also the Grand Prix Finals. I felt like I wasn’t really growing, that I was slowly becoming unable to fight, those sort of thoughts were in my head. For a moment, I thought that I had become tired of competing, and I could probably give up at any point, though I think there are probably many people supporting me who don’t want that to happen. But within that fight, I realised once again that I love the feeling of accomplishment you get in a competition, the feeling of being able to do things, overcoming things, the suffering of being able to overcome hardships, etc, those feelings that exist because of competitions. Also, bringing up Uesugi Kenshin*, well, things like his perspective on battle, within that there was (a sense of) aesthetics you could say. Also, he had conflict with the fact (there were always) sacrifices that resulted from fighting, and so I think ultimately he ended up becoming a monk. So in that way, like reaching a state of enlightenment or understanding, I think maybe something like Lord Kenshin’s sense of values is kind of similar (to mine). I tried to skate while linking these kinds of things together with my performance.
*t/n: Referring to 16th century/medieval Japanese warlord Uesugi Kenshin who ruled over part of northern Japan. The music for Yuzuru’s free program this time is taken from a 1969 taiga genre (historical) drama called “Heaven and Earth” that is about Kenshin’s life. Kenshin was educated at a temple for some time in his youth and for the rest of his life was regarded as an honorable warrior, known for his religious devotion to the Buddhist god of war, Bishamonten. In an earlier comment, Yuzuru pointed out that he resonates with Kenshin’s overall view of battle/competition as always having come with a cost, or a “sacrifice.” Earlier comment was translated here: https://twitter.com/shinjistarxx/status/1342787528550723585
Q: What are the key details you’re mindful of in your choreography?
A: All of it. Hehehehe. I think if any one detail is missed this program will probably… not just this program, but especially the programs in the last 5 or 6 seasons, probably would not be complete. More than anything, the fact I was able to jump seamlessly without exerting too much force was the best part in being able to complete the expression [of the program].
Q: Is the sense of continuity an important pillar [in your programs]?
A: Yes it is. Therefore, I think a performance like yesterday’s [short program] is still a little unrefined. There are of course emotions I’d like to show, but within that, it’s not the feeling of ‘yeah I jumped that, yahoo!’ or ‘Eyyy~’ but more…something smarter – if it was Robbie [Williams], he’d express it in a smarter way, because it’s English rock… um, how do I put this. It’s not really about a particular country’s [rock style] but I think it’s a kind of rock with more room to play with. Yesterday I thought I am probably not able to express that yet, but reflecting on it last night, I want to do a performance with more freedom and make it feel more alive.
Q: How do you want next year to take shape? A: In any case, this time I have trained for a long time by myself and well, there were of course problems in the Short Program and honestly speaking, they are not performances I can call perfect. In particular, in regards to today [Free Program], I feel very reassured, in myself and also I think those watching can feel reassured that, as they were able to see, I can do an original performance. That the way I trained was right. I think I’ve found a training method that is suitable for my current body condition, one that helps me grow, so from here on I’d like to keep refining it further and I hope that I can continue [training] without injuries while challenging harder jumps.
Q: At the end of your program for a few seconds, what did you see?
A: What was it? It wasn’t as though I was thinking about anything in particular. It’s just…how do I put this… I felt like I had received a huge amount of various kinds of energies, and it was like I had finally come out of this battle, so I stood there afterwards – that sort of feeling. It wasn’t really like I was looking at something but rather, it felt like I was watching from a different place.
Q: What is the meaning behind the choreography of the beginning?
A: Well, it’s Shae’s [idea]… how should I put it, it’s kind of like a rough image but, I heard that it is an image meant to be like a warrior’s armor and helmet, originally. (Gesturing with his body and hands) Like, [she had] an image that here would be the armor, and here would be like a helmet. In my mind, “Heaven, and Earth, and”* ends with [the word] “and,” which of course, I’m using from the title of the taiga (historical) drama as is, but in my mind, I had an image of heaven and earth, and humanity, or a person, perhaps myself, like an image that it’s “Yuzuru Hanyu.” I think (with gestures) that in this space, it’s maybe in between heaven and the earth, then (in that space) I meant for it to be an image of as if I am there.
*T/N: Referring to the title of his program, 天と地と (“Heaven and Earth, and”), which is taken from a 1960s taiga (historical) drama of the same name.
Q: This song makes good use of the sound of the biwa. (Japanese lute)
A: Well…hmmm, the biwa sound in the beginning of the song is taken as it was from the original piece. In terms of the flow of the song, it’s full of determination, like we’re going to fight, or filled with a sense of preparing to go into battle. And at the end, after the Ina Bauer, the biwa sound while spinning is not a sound that exists in the first place, but a sound that I brought from a different piece of music* and layered it with a different song to make it original. There during the ChSq, the image is of [Kenshin] who doesn’t want to fight anymore, but that he must continue to fight in order to protect. In the end, when Lord Kenshin is entering his priesthood, he is reflecting on the half of his life thus far, so with that image in mind, I tried to overlay the sound of the biwa there.
*T/N: Different song or different part from the same song, it’s not clear
Q: How about the koto? (Japanese harp-like instrument)
A: I wanted to make the program even more ‘Japonesque’. At that part, in my mind, the feeling is meant to be like after [Kenshin] has fought Lord Shingen*; it is after their fight at Kawanakajima, and they are enveloped by fog and then separated (from one another’s view) so they are (left to) face their own selves. I thought it would be nice to have the sound of the biwa to feel that sense of facing yourself, where your own heartbeat is ringing in your ears, and maybe also that sensation of blood flowing, and then suddenly that sense of bloodlust and the need to kill subsides. For this program, I chose the piece myself. In picking the music, I made quite many versions editing it too, including the sound itself. However, I’m not a musician, so I do wonder if it matches the skating.
*t/n: Referring to another 16th century Japanese warlord, Takeda Shingen, who was famously known for having a long-standing rivalry with Kenshin. The two clashed many times at the site of Kawanakajima, which is located in present-day Nagano (incidentally close to Nagano Big Hat, the arena where this competition was held).
Q: What meaning does this competition hold in your competitive career?
A: I think what I said when the competition first started was everything. Should I call it my own desire, um, it’s a very personal opinion, so even now I’m still conflicted whether I can stick with that. It’s very personal, and if the World Championships happen, if I don’t get closer to it in advance a bit, I have the impression that it’d become difficult later. So, um, it felt like reaching for the light that I want to grasp for in the dark world that is the current COVID19 pandemic.
Q: What do you think about restarting at Nagano this time?
A: Of course, even though I have a good impression [of the venue], on the contrary, exactly because I have a good impression of it, I was afraid of breaking that, and feared that I would be caught up in it. I’ve had a long competitive career until now, finally. Rather than the techniques or the technical level, it’s so cool to be able to use your mentality, or your experiences in interpersonal sports like Federer in tennis and of course, Kodaira in [speed] skating. I honestly think it’s hard to make use of those things in figure skating. Even when I’ve become a veteran, I can’t utilize them well. But I’ve finally been able to make it work at this competition.