Y: Um, well, I think of course the [quad] Axel this time was the closest I’ve gotten, up until now. I feel that maybe this is the utmost of what I can do for now, the best of Yuzuru Hanyu’s Axel so to speak. And also, of course, the fall on the [quad] Salchow was a big [loss], but, I skated while kind of thinking of it as being incorporated in what made this story of “Ten to Chi to” possible.
Q: In your finishing pose, you lifted your arms for six seconds. What were you thinking during that time?
Y: Yes, that’s right, that pose signifies the “heaven” of “Ten to Chi to [Heaven and Earth and]”, and, well, in a way, in my mind I envision it as if I am sending my spirit to the heavens. It’s the same pose that I had in the program “From Russia, With Love,” which I skated when I was nine years old. So, it’s kind of like projecting my current self on my past self, and it’s hard to explain succinctly, but there are a lot of emotions swirling around. Well, in a way… hmm how should I put it, it’s difficult. I think that the story of my program continues up to that point, until I’ve finished that pose, until I’ve sheathed the [metaphorical] sword, until I’ve exited the rink.
Q: You put some ice on your face when you exited the rink…
I was thinking that I was truly thankful. To be honest, uhm. Such a thing happened in the short program. Well, of course I was frustrated, somehow… yes, in my opinion, I’ve accumulated a lot of things and also put out the right efforts until now, and I think I’ve done everything that I could think of. I’ve done all of it till this day thinking “Ah, (those efforts) are not rewarded”. However, truly, in the end, I felt thankful thinking “thank you for letting me jump to this level until now”.
Q: Were you able to enjoy the Olympics this time?
Y: No, it wasn’t enjoyable at all. No, [because] there was so much going on.
Haha, I can’t express it in one word, after all. The Sochi Olympics were its own event, and I won feeling a lot of regret. In a sense, that might have been the occasion where I was able to improve myself. I think Pyeongchang was where I put out all the improvements that I’ve made. This time, how to say it. It might become clearer after some time has passed, but I think it’s been an Olympics where I fought my best with all of my pride.
Y: Um, to be honest, I’m really conflicted on how in-depth I should talk about it. Well, I’ve been thinking that I could probably talk about it if I won. Frankly speaking, I don’t know how I should put it, but probably, uhm, I received a lot of treatment. I feel like that’s solely why I could somehow keep standing.
Q: What was your strongest emotion heading to the rink in that state?
Y: The response was good. Well, amazingly, (I thought that) this is the rotating speed of a quad Axel. Landing after such rotations might be a bit dangerous, it might be impossible for a human to do it. But in a sense, I think that I’ve been able to do the best quad Axel that I can deliver.
Q: What were you feeling while in the air [while doing the quad axel]?
Y: Hehe, what should I say? I think it’s probably something nobody other than me has felt.
Q: Will you still continue your challenge for the 4A?
Y: Please give me some time. I’d like to think about it a bit. The amount [of effort] I put in this time was really everything I could.
Q: [from Chinese media] You can also do it at the exhibition…
Y: Am I included in the exhibition?
Q: [from Chinese media] If you do have a chance [to perform in the exhibition], what kind of feelings would you like to express [to your fans/audience]?
Y: Um, I really truly want to express my gratitude to everyone. I don’t know if my performances this time lived up to everyone’s expectations, and I don’t know if I was able to connect all of the support I received from everyone to it. Honestly, I also really feel sorry. That’s why, I hope my feelings of gratitude will be able to reach everyone through my performances, even if just a little bit. Thank you very much. I ask for your support once more.
The mixed zone exchange was reported also in this article (first published 10 February 2022), including parts that did not air in the TV segment. We have therefore translated the article as well, including additional parts not covered in the video.
Y: Rather than get stuck… it’s more like… um, when I say I got stuck, I mean that I got stuck in a hole that I traced before, which is what happened in 2019 in a short program. The mistake in that Short Program in 2019 was probably because um, during the 6 minute warm-up, I was fixed on my jumping position down to the millimeter, and I ended up jumping in the same spot later [in the actual competition]. This time, I was already aware of that past mistake, and I had that experience in my mind. So, during the 6 minute warm-up this time, I adjusted my position a little bit. And so, during the actual program, I went in with the perfect form and the perfect timing for the jump, and the moment I tried to take off, there was a hole there. It was a hole from a toe jump. So there’s nothing I could do about it.
Q: You skated in the main rink for the first time this morning. Looking back on your preparation method, what are your thoughts?
Y: Well, it was pretty good, if anything. The 6-minute warm-up was also really good. I also felt really good about my physical condition. Well, of course, facing the Free Skate, I’d like to stay in this good condition. Today’s mistake was something that I couldn’t have prevented, no matter what I did. Well, looking ahead towards the Free Skate, I want to properly put everything I have into it.
Q: How did you feel when skating after the [quad] Salchow?
Y: Well… kind of like, “well, that happened”. In any case, to my senses, that kind of thing wasn’t a mistake to me. So, I think that’s why I was able to continue on with the program without it affecting my mind at all.
Q: Were you able to refocus your feelings [after the mistake] today?
Y: Rather than refocus my feelings [after the mistake], how do I put it… it’s like when you see something, and with just one small piece coming out of place, I wasn’t quite able to bring it all together. It is what it is, yes.
Y: Well, I’m really thankful to be even getting 95 points with [that kind of error]. I think that’s because I was able to complete the other elements with high quality and I’d like to commend myself for that. How to put it. Well… truthfully speaking, I wondered if I had done something bad. Hahaha. Like somehow…was it because I had done something bad that it turned out this way? It was the sort of mistake where I could only think about that kind of thing, yes.
Q: Did you have any strong sense of this being ‘the Olympics’?
Y: Of course I had. Well, the atmosphere was different from usual [competitions]. Um. But I was really in a super concentrated state, in a condition where there was nothing out of place, so if I try to search for the cause of the mistake, I won’t be able to sort them out. I don’t think there were any mistakes with the skating element. It’s like… I wonder if I did something to be hated (laughs), like I skated while thinking I must be really hated by the ice.
Q: What was the reason behind you arriving 2 days before [the SP]?
Y: Um… for me personally, since I became a Senior skater, I’ve felt that the longer I stay [at a competition], the more I become listless, and my condition gradually worsens. Things like the World Championships are also long [events] but if I do things for too long, then I get into the competitive mindset too much, and tire out. When the Team Event members were announced, that was when I decided I would cut it close [in arriving].
Q: You’ll be heading into the Free Skate not as the leader of the Short Program for the first time (at the Olympics)
Y: Well, hopefully one in which I don’t get caught in the ice [laughs]. Rather than the saying “one good deed a day”*, I’m wondering if I now have to do like ten good deeds a day [to avoid this happening again] (laughs). But, I think I’ve done enough practice to justify that much. I think I’ve come here with a lot of confidence in my performances. As for the rest, well, maybe only God knows. In any case, there’s still time. Also, by making good use of the time after the short program [until the free], and really taking in everyone’s feelings, I want to turn my performance into something complete. Thank you for having me. Thank you, I’ll do my best [in the free program].
*T/N: Referring to a Japanese proverb, 「一日一善 」 “[doing] one good deed a day”
A: Thank you for your hard work! U~m, I was really able to concentrate, I think. Of course, I was more nervous at the start, eh… but I was kind of trying to adjust to the feel of the ice. I think I was able to internally adjust, little by little, and ultimately was able to focus while practising. I think it was a good feeling.
Y: Well, of course… um, I think my condition changes every day, and also, this is the first practice after arriving so I feel like I’m not doing it with all my strength yet. But little by little, I hope I’ll make some improvements even here (at the Olympics)..
Q: What have you been putting your efforts into since the Japanese National Championships?
Y: Well, indeed, I’ve been practising the 4A. Well, I practised it while thinking that it’s really hard. However, it is, after all, the goal I want to achieve no matter what. Well, for me personally, I think it’s absolutely necessary for me to rise to the top at this Olympics. I’ll do my best.
Q: This being your third Olympics, what’s different from the past ones?
Y: Well. In all the previous Olympics, I went in thinking something like if I just put out what I had been practising and doing up until then, I’d be able to win. But this time, I’m in a position where I still have to up my level. In a sense, it’s similar to [what I said] at Japanese Nationals but, I think the tension of a stage such as the Olympics is indeed something unique.
Y: Hm~ I haven’t yet. Anyway, um, since I’ve come here I’ve been feeling pretty good, and today I was able to practice while feeling that my rotations were coming pretty easily. First and foremost, I want to rotate [the jump] fully.
Q: What was motivating about the team competition?
Y: Ah, um, well rather than encouraging, I felt relieved thinking that the rink seemed to be in good shape.
Y: The Short Program? Hehehe. The Short…well. Of course, I’m thinking rationally about it, and I end up thinking a lot about the 4A. But the Short Program is the Short Program. I’d like to really pour a lot of love into the Short… um…yes, one by one, I’d like to accumulate everything I can, heading into the Short Program
*T/N: The original article said 4A4A but we think it was a typo
Yuzuru Hanyu has his hand on the door of history’s first quadruple Axel. He challenged it for the first time in competition at the Japanese National Championships 2021. Though [the 4A] was judged to be of insufficient rotation, he showed that he was closing in on the ‘truth of rotations’. And then there is one other person, a human who has taken on this world of ‘4.5’. The person who is the leading expert on ‘twisting’, who has landed a 4.5 twist in practice, Kenzo Shirai. Shirai spoke about the 4A from the viewpoint of achieving such ‘rotations’. revolutions.
I’m watching Hanyu-senshu’s 4A challenge with bated breath. What both gymnastics and figure skating have in common is the question of how you create the twist (horizontal rotation) and how you control it, so I’m thinking about various things from the perspective of a gymnast while watching.
During your competitive days, you had 6 eponymous ‘Shirai’ skills. There was the 3.5 twist, the quad twist, which were all high speed rotation skills that overturned the common understanding at the time. In the world of gymnastics, horizontal rotation is known as ‘twisting’ but does it have points in common with figure skating’s quadruple jumps?
In the case of gymnastics, we use both vertical rotation and twisting (horizontal rotation) but we have a leg and arm that establishes the axis and allows us to control rotations which is the same [as figure skating]. In addition, as the number of revolutions increases, I think the thinking around ‘how do we create more rotations’ is similar. I twist to the right (clockwise direction) so my right arm is my ‘axis’ arm. Hanyu-senshu’s jump just happens to go in the opposite direction. I think the theory behind rotation is something gymnastics and figure skating have in common.
The air position and positioning of the arm varies depending on the athlete. Some athletes don’t cross their legs. There are athletes who bring in their elbows in order to narrow their axis and athletes who stretch their elbows out to help regain balance. The air position and positioning of the hands and face in figure skating is also different depending on the athlete. Hanyu-senshu jumps with his elbows spread outwards so he might be the type who does so to balance his rotational axis. If he draws in his arms, the rotational axis becomes narrower but the axis is more prone to instability. The balance between the speed of rotation and the axis differs between athletes.
I have this impression that, before the Axel, Hanyu-senshu keeps his head still and then jumps. In gymnastics also, when you’re connecting skills, if your head moves, you may not be able to enter the rotations in an ideal way, so the positioning of the head is important. Maintaining the position of my head from the start to the end of the skill was my forte as well. Having said that, even though ‘you must not move your head’ is the theory up until doing quad (twists), when it comes to challenging the 4.5 twist, you are to move your head.
Up to doing the quad twists, I tried not to move my head and the right shoulder that I was using to lead into the movement since I was focusing on the axis. I’ve learned since childhood to do it that way since the rotational axis is important for being able to land. But when it was time for the 4.5 twist, I didn’t have time to focus on my axis. When I put 4.5 revolutions in the air and then thought about how densely the movement was packed, there was not enough time no matter what I did. Up until the quad twist, first I’d establish an axis after jumping up and then have time to start twisting, but for the 4.5 twist, I couldn’t make it unless I condensed the time I took to establish the axis. And if I were to describe how I did it, it was that from the moment I jumped, I’d start twisting both my leading right shoulder and my head in the direction of rotation.
To change the method of training that you were taught since childhood requires a change in thinking and courage doesn’t it?
Of course. When I was taking on the 4.5 twist, I tried various things that failed. At first, I was trying the method of ‘rotating a quad and then adding a half rotation after’ but even when I established a good axis and tried rotating 4.5 times, I couldn’t complete the rotation in time no matter what I did and fell sideways on the landing. It was the equivalent of a step out in figure skating. It was when I changed the approach to start rotating the same moment I took off that I landed it for the first time. Based on what I’ve deeply felt in my experiences until now, the more you feel like you have a really good swing (on takeoff) or establish a good axis, the less you can achieve the new skill. You only succeed at it when the internal feeling is closer to an ‘oh shit’ level of strangeness.
On top of that, I was still a high school student when I succeeded at the 4.5 twist so I didn’t have any muscles yet and had not increased the height of my somersault. Therefore, it wasn’t increasing the height or air time but thinking about how much I could compress the movements into my rotations that allowed me to succeed. Of course, I think you can’t succeed if you don’t get sufficient height, but I think there’s a way to succeed at “4.5” without having the height and airtime.
I’d like to ask you about whether there’s a possibility the 4.5 twist and the 4A are connected. Firstly, in the case of Hanyu-senshu’s 4A, he’s rotating in the opposite direction so he needs to open his left shoulder, doesn’t he?
The foundations of gymnastics and figure skating are different so this is talk from an amateur’s point of view, but for Hanyu-senshu, my impression is that he opens his left shoulder and leads the rotation with his right arm. For the triple axel, at the moment of takeoff, he doesn’t open his left shoulder and jumps towards his right arm, which he raises forward. The moment he raises his right leg, he keeps the rotational axis around his right side while trying not to open his left shoulder. With this method, he’s only creating the rotation using his right arm. However, if he opens his left shoulder and starts the rotation from there, he might be able to get more rotational power.
If you start rotation from the left shoulder, there’s this feeling you won’t be able to shift to the right rotational axis – what do you think about that?
I think it’s fine if you only use the left shoulder at the start. Open it up at the start and create power for the rotation from there, try to shorten the time between takeoff and opening the shoulder and then catch up to your left shoulder with your right shoulder soon after. The method is that you’re not starting by creating an axis with your right side, but instead, you start rotating first with your left shoulder and add in the rotational axis with your right shoulder.
I can picture how you can generate strong rotational strength. It does indeed change the method of how to create the axis.
In my case, when doing the “4.5”, my way of thinking was not ‘create an axis first’ but rather ‘fix the axis I created at the time at the point of landing’. After I’m in the air, I’ve already let it go. If, while in the air, I got the sense of ‘this is where my axis is’, then I was able to decide how to position my feet when I landed. If I created the axis in the air or tried to fix it, I couldn’t ensure I completed all 4.5 revolutions.
You land on both feet in gymnastics but because you land on one foot in skating, fixing (the axis) on landing is difficult.
In Hanyu-senshu’s case, he’s very good at using his hip joint. In the Free Skate at the Pyeongchang Olympics, in the final 3Lz, he was able to land with one foot when his head was low. Being able to react like that in that instant is something other athletes can’t do and is Hanyu-senshu’s strength. Therefore, if Hanyu-senshu himself can understand this idea that ‘I can respond by landing in this wide variety of ways at the moment of touchdown’, I think he may be able to lighten the degree of focus on the axis. If you think only that you must establish the axis, you may be late to enter the rotation, or you can’t put enough power in the takeoff and there are various kinds of effects from that. If you think about just taking off and rotating as you imagine and then think about how you can recover the axis on landing, you may be able to find a different kind of balance. If it’s Hanyu, he definitely has the ability to respond that way.
I feel that it’s possible theoretically but it’s so different from the theory for jumping the Axel that it’s a shocking idea.
In the same way as you’re taught to not open your left shoulder going into the Axel, we’re also taught from childhood in gymnastics too that you should not open your shoulder when you do the twists. [Opening the shoulder] isn’t something you do normally, but what you’re attempting isn’t ordinary. I think if you don’t also do something out of the ordinary with your technique, you probably can’t achieve the 4A. Because there is a textbook way to jump, everyone can do the 3A. But for the 4A, Hanyu-senshu has to write a new textbook. I think he can do it.
A technique that is out of the ordinary. I think Hanyu-senshu has the power to overturn this concept of “the usual”.
It’s a skill no one has done before, so any method is the correct answer. Therefore it’s an even more simple principle. For techniques everyone can already do, judges/referees also understand it so, in a sense, they have a ‘preferred’ method of execution. But for new skills, the correct way is how the person who completes it does it. Therefore, the way Hanyu-senshu executes it would become the ‘correct’ way to do the 4A. He’s challenging a world no one has reached yet. I will cheer for him!