Let me put it this way: is there a record Yuzuru Hanyu can’t break? After this year’s edition of NHK Trophy in Japan, the answer is a definite No. The 20-year-old skater from Sendai (he’ll turn 21 on December 7th, prior to the fifth Grand Prix Final of his career) had already shattered some records during his time on the ice, but never before has the figure skating world experienced something like this: on November 27, Yuzuru Hanyu improved the world record for the short program by nearly 5 points (he held that one too, since the 2014 Olympics in Sochi) and, a day later, he became the first skater ever to break the 200-point barrier in the men’s long program and the 300-point barrier in the total combined score. And what a way to do it – not by a whisker, but in glorious style: Yuzuru Hanyu was awarded 216.07 points for the free and 322.40 in total; the scores to beat, set by Patrick Chan in 2013, were 196.75 points and 295.27 respectively.
In doing so, during the two days of competition in Nagano, Yuzuru landed five quadruple jumps, two of them in combination, received only positive GOEs for all the elements he performed and was awarded the perfect 10 for no less than 16 times, for Performance, Interpretation, Choreography. The Japanese’s feat was inspirational, to say the least – and not only to figure skatings fans from all around the world, but to his fellow skaters too. „I want to be Yuzuru when I grow up. Amazing!”, wrote Canadian ice dancer Madeline Edwards on twitter. „Watching Yuzuru skate is the new highlight of my skating life!”, noted pairs World champion Eric Radford, while former competitive skater Douglas Razanno from the USA „winked” at his followers on twitter: „Omg!!! Yuzu 322.40! Omg! Thank God I retired when I did”. But to Yuzuru Hanyu, the most precious compliment might have been the one coming from his childhood idol, Russia’s Evgeni Plushenko: “Congratulations to my friend Yuzu!!! I am so proud of you”.
by Florentina Tone
There must be something in the air of the Big Hat arena in Nagano, the rink that hosted the ice-hockey competition at 1998 Winter Olympics. Something driving and uplifting, favourable to great performances – two imaginary wings that kept Japan’s champion more in the air than on the ice at this year’s edition of NHK Trophy, just like in that fan poster hanging in CCIB arena in Barcelona, last year, at the Grand Prix Final.
But the truth is Yuzuru Hanyu doesn’t remember the 1998 Olympics: „It was before I started skating so I don’t remember much”, he stated during a press conference in Nagano. He remembers instead the Olympics in Salt Lake City, four years later, and the amazing, daring, thrilling competition in the men’s event, between 21-year-old Alexei Yagudin and 19-year-old Evgeni Plushenko. It was Yagudin who won the gold on American soil, but it was Plushenko who stirred the imagination of a 7-year-old in the Japanese city of Sendai. From that moment on, Plushenko was an inspiration to Yuzuru Hanyu – he even styled his hair in a mushroom cut, as his idol.
This particular story – the visible and invisible ties between Russia’s champion and the young Japanese aspiring to follow into his footsteps – was recounted with details and emotion by the Japanese newspaper „Sports Nippon”, who ran an affectionate article on February 18, 2014, a couple of days after Yuzury Hanyu had met Plushenko on the competitive ice in Sochi, during the team event. As quoted by „Sports Nippon”, Yuzuru confessed: „I looked up to Plushenko in every way in those days. In many ways I still do now. [...] I’m so glad I got to skate against him in the team event. It was like a dream come true. I can’t thank him enough for all the inspirational performances he’s shown us in his career”.
13 years after Salt Lake City, Yuzuru Hanyu himself became a legend and entered history through his performances – and you have this feeling the admiration is now mutual. Quoted by sports.ru, Evgeni Plushenko praised the Japanese after he’d scored 106.33 points, the highest of all times, for his short program at NHK Trophy: „I think his skating was perfect, as if it were one breath! There was this huge energy, and everything was of great value: great spins, excellent flow, great expression. This was his best skate ever”. A day later, with Yuzuru Hanyu breaking two more world records, the Russian was once again impressed, congratulating him, and also the silver medalist, China’s Boyang Jin; the message was posted on Plushenko’s official Instagram account: „Congratulations to my my friend Yuzu!!! I am so proud of you. Boyang Jin, great job, this is what figure skating [is] about!”
The Anatomy of Joy. Take One
„A hundred and something”, says Brian Orser, rubbing his hands with satisfaction.
„I hope so”, smiles Yuzuru.
„I hope so too”, Orser nods.
And there it is: 106.33 points for that masterpiece of a short program, to Chopin’s Ballade no. 1.
„O-ho!”, bursts Orser, and people in Big Hat arena in Nagano rose on their feet, as they had done when Yuzuru Hanyu finished his routine, his arms in the air, punctuating the final note of the piano. The ice is soon covered with flowers and stuffed Winnies – and organizers try their best to shove everything into transparent plastic bags. [By the way, are there any Poohs left in Japan?]
Seated in the Kiss and Cry, the coach hugs his student, this incredibly talented and determined student, and they take turns in applauding one another. Hanyu raises Orser’s hand – what a team they are – and then takes a bow in front of him. And Orser does the same, bowing to his amazing student.
In the arena, hands on their mouth, the audience is bewildered with joy: the 20-year-old Yuzu, as he is affectionately nicknamed by his fans, has just shattered the World record, set by himself in Sochi, at 2014 Olympics.
If the scene above were part of a movie, then the movie would be called „The Anatomy of Joy”. It isn’t a movie though – it’s the natural reaction to a gorgeous routine that set the standards for the years to come. „World record and one of the most beautiful skates ever from Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu”, former competitive skater Johnny Weir wrote on twitter.
The Anatomy of Joy. Take Two.
Yuzuru Hanyu approaches the boards, after his flawless free program in Nagano, set to music from the movie „Onmyoji”.
Brian Orser is overwhelmed: „I have no words. I have no words”.
A radiant Yuzuru Hanyu feels like making jokes: „It was good, right?”. His eyes sparkling, he’s waiting for his coach’ reaction. Orser comes into play: „I think so, yes”. And then he bursts: „Amazing!”.
„Arigato!”, Yuzuru yells while heading to the couch in the Kiss and Cry. The audience goes nuts, and when the highlights of the program are over and the camera is back on them, Yuzuru Hanyu leaps to his feet and applauds Orser. And then he takes a long, respectful bow to his coach and, raising the arms in the air, he thanks the public in Big Hat arena.
„The scores, please”.
Orser: „Oh, boy. Ready?”
Hanyu: „I’m ready”.
Well, as it turned out, he wasn’t ready. None of them was ready for those massive scores: 216.07 points for the free program and 322.40 points in total. The camera focuses on the total, as if it were Nadia Comaneci’s perfect 10 in Montreal; 1.00, in fact, because, back then, it was the computer which wasn’t ready for such a historical score.
Yuzuru Hanyu covers his face in disbelief – and jumps out of the couch to the screen in front of him, to better process the marks. It’s utter frenzy in the Kiss and Cry. And how could it not be? The former world records have been scattered into pieces.
In his long program this season, Yuzuru Hanyu embodies the Xth century astronomer Abe no Seimei – a program choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne, insanely courageous when it comes to the technical elements, three quadruple jumps included, one in combination. Well, in Nagano, at this year’s edition of NHK Trophy, every single element on paper translated itself on to the ice and the 20-year-old Japanese earned 23.08 points only from positive GOEs, that good he was. Add here 13 times 10 for his Components and you’ll understand why this particular performance will be incredibly hard to replicate – even by Yuzuru.
„That score was a surprise. I was so nervous before I skated but I wanted to go for it. I wanted to show that I’m the Olympic champion, here, on a rink where the Olympics were held. Despite the score, I still think there is room to improve”, Hanyu said during the champion’s interview. And, later on, at the press conference, he joked: „These are not the 2018 Olympic Games, so I won’t retire now”. And then: „I want to continue to work hard to give good performances. What I think was important was to carry out each element carefully and with quality. I believed in my practice and in my physical ability. I heard the cheers from the audience after each jump and I felt everyone’s excitement. I could feel that everybody in Japan and in the world encouraged me”.
For the thousands of people in the Big Hat arena in Nagano, the joy of experiencing such a set of performances must have been huge. Years from now, they can say – as ice dancer Marien de la Asuncion wrote on twitter – „In my life I can say: «I was there» #Hanyu #worldrecord #NHK15”
Meagan Duhamel on twitter: “Yuzu’s program at #NHK15 is the best thing that I’ve ever seen in figure skating. In 20 years people will be talking about this performance”
Eric Radford on twitter: “Watching Yuzuru skate is the new highlight of my skating life! #WOW #WOW #WOW #NHK15”
Zachary Donohue on facebook: „Holy cow, Yuzu! That was mind-blowing. Effortless perfection”
Maia Shibutani on twitter: „Wow, Yuzu!!! Amazing!”
Nam Nguyen on twitter: “YUZU IS A GOD HOLY OVER 300 POINTS”
Johnny Weir on twitter: “Absolutely stunning world record for Yuzu-kun! 322+ points! Nobody has ever been close. Bravo!”
Maxim Trankov on twitter: “Bravo, YUZU!!!”
Tatiana Volosozhar on twitter: “Yuzu’s performance in NHK. Just wow”
Douglas Razzano on twitter: “Omg!!! Yuzu 322.40! Omg! Thank God I retired when I did”
Jeremy Ten, as a response to Douglas Razzano’s tweet: “AMEN!”
Madeline Edwards on twitter: „I want to be Yuzuru when I grow up. #AMAZING!!!”
Jessica Calalang on twitter: “THAT MOMENT WHEN YOU RIDE IN THE SAME ELEVATOR AS YUZURU #NHK15 #fangirling”
Anna Cappellini and Luca Lanotte on facebook: “Yuzuru. You. Are. A. Miracle. #superman #nowords #borntofly #historymaker #nhk2015 #isu”
Nobunari Oda on twitter: 羽生さんからお花頂きました。女性の皆さんごめんなさい。 #NHK杯 [which translates into: “Hanyu-san gave me the flowers. Sorry, ladies. #NHK15”]