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The Ice Prince: Yuzuru Hanyu

Goat, or G.O.A.T, is an abbreviation for “Greatest of All Time.” This term is also what figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu has been regarded as since his first Olympic gold medal back in the Russia 2014 Winter Games.

Yuzuru Hanyu (羽生 結弦) is a two-time Olympic and World, four-time Grand Prix Final, one-time Four Continents, and six-time national champion. He’s the first Asian man to win Olympic gold and the first skater to achieve a “Grand Slam,” which can only be achieved after a competitor has won every major junior and senior competition at least once. He is already quite well regarded by the public, but the real question is: who is he really?

Born in 1994, Hanyu is a figure skater from Sendai, Japan. He started to skate at the age of four after watching his older sister do so. At first, he was not very fond of the ice due to his asthma, but soon enough his talent for it became obvious and he began to train professionally.

His first national competition was as a novice skater in the 2004–2005 season where he won gold in group B, a lower-ranking group. The continuous success throughout the years eventually propelled Hanyu into winning his first Junior Grand Prix. He later entered senior competitions, landing his first quadruple toe loop in his debut program. While several of his performances weren’t considered ideal or competitive enough throughout the season, he was still selected for the 2011 Four Continents Championship where he won a silver medal in his first year as a senior skater. However, this was not the most significant event in 2011 for Hanyu.

When the Tohoku and Miyagi earthquakes hit in 2011, Hanyu was training back on the rink back in his hometown. He later remarked that he had felt, “the feeling of the ice shaking, the shaking of the ground being pushed up, how terrible it was that [his] legs were shaking from the earthquake”. As a result of damage to infrastructure, his rink eventually closed until later in the year. With the impact of the earthquake, Hanyu made it his goal to use ice shows, having attended over 60, as an opportunity to train and later donate the royalties he received to the victims of the earthquakes. The earthquakes also became a theme in his programs throughout the next few seasons, including the Exhibition Gala program in the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics. To this day, he continues to support victims, donating a percent of his profit from his two autobiographies, Blue Flameand Blue Flame II, in hopes of keeping the rink in his hometown running.

The event, although slightly changing the course of his life, did not stop him from competing, as he moved on to rank quite high at numerous championships in the 2011–2012 season. The season also marked the point in his life when Hanyu moved to train with Coach Brian Orser in Canada, significantly increasing his training hours. This change seemed to have benefitted him quite a bit, as in the following season, he joined Japan’s Olympic team in the Men’s Short Program; not only did Hanyu break a world record as the first skater to score over 100 points at the Men’s Individual Short Program event but he also won his first Olympic gold medal in Sochi, the first Olympic games he ever attended.

Between the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympic Games and the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympic games, he sustained several injuries but continued to skate despite the pain. His determination won him several world records, such as his short program and total score in the 2015 NHK Trophy and his 2017 World Championships Free Program, taking him from fifth to first place.

Perhaps one of his most notable achievements is the record he broke in the 2017–2018 season of figure skating. In the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, he won his second consecutive gold medal, the first time this had happened at the Olympics since Dick Button in 1952. In the same year, Hanyu was chosen as the recipient of the People’s Honor Award, a prestigious award given by the Prime Minister of Japan, becoming the youngest person to receive the award.

In the 2019–2020 season, competitions were being canceled one after the other as a result of the Coronavirus outbreak, but Yuzuru Hanyu managed to achieve another feat. This was the season where he achieved his “Super Slam,” winning every major championship that he had not been able to succeed at prior. However, following the season, Hanyu began to prioritize his health and skipped major competitions such as the Grand Prix Series in fear of contracting Covid.

When the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing rolled around, many fans were afraid that he would not partake in the competition. Despite the doubts of the public, Hanyu was there and he had a different goal this time: to land the quadruple Axel. This had been a jump he had been attempting for years and had not yet landed on. Its difficulty came from the fact that an Axel requires one more half rotation compared to a regular figure skating jump. This meant that a quadruple Axel would require four and a half rotations in the air, something deemed impossible by many. With rumors claiming that Hanyu was very close to achieving it due to how he apparently landed it during practice, all eyes were on him during the Olympics. He skipped the quadruple Axel in his short program and fell on a quadruple Salchow because of a hole in the ice, which made him place eighth. In his free program, he also fell twice, once on another quad Salchow and one considered a rather special fall. This had been his attempt at the quadruple Axel and although it ended with a fall, it is still the first-ever recorded quadruple Axel. It was under-rotated but was not classified as a triple Axel, which meant that Hanyu had conducted the first quadruple Axel recorded by the International Skating Federation.

Unfortunately, his courage in attempting a jump, deemed nearly impossible, did not help him get on the podium, placing fourth under his two teammates Yuma Kagiyama and Shoma Uno as well as American skater Nathan Chen. Despite the low ranking, Hanyu was still the point of discussion with many claiming that he had been underscored. Many speculated that he would retire after the Olympics and no one truly knew what his plans were with his injuries growing more severe.

However, the rumors died down a few days ago, when Hanyu announced officially that he would continue skating.

With all that said: the 19 world records, a Super Slam, and two Olympic medals to his name, it seems that the reason why Yuzuru Hanyu is recognized as the G.O.A.T. of figure skating is rather obvious.

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