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Preview article originally published 13 July 2021. Note that this is not the full article.
As we draw closer to the Tokyo Olympics, a ‘great exchange’ that connects Tokyo and Sendai took place in this special Pre-Olympics Numbers edition.
This is the first face-to-face meeting between the golden child of swimming, who has once more taken to the competitive stage, Rikako Ikee, and the champion of Winter, Yuzuru Hanyu.
Besides both being Olympians, the two share another significant commonality. The one who noticed this was Yuzuru Hanyu.
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.
“For me too, since the 3/11 disaster happened when I was sixteen, I feel that from that time, I had started to really shoulder these various things.”
“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.