Nineteen-year old figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu stunned the world this past week after winning gold in the men’s singles event at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi. Last Thursday Hanyu had an unprecedented performance during the men’s short program, where he nailed his two biggest jumps and smoothly glided through the rest of his routine. His near-perfect performance earned him a score of 101.45, making him the first figure skater to score over 100 points in the short program and setting a new world record. Hanyu struggled through the men’s free skate on Friday, however, falling twice while attempting a quadruple Salchow and triple flip jump. Canadian skater Patrick Chan, who trailed Hanyu by about 4 points after the short program, had a chance to overtake Hanyu in the free skate, but minor mistakes left him with the silver medal. Hanyu’s combined score of 280.09 points makes him the first man from an Asian nation to win Olympic gold in figure skating, and the second youngest gold medal winner behind 18-year old American Dick Button in 1948.
Yuzuru Hanyu is originally from Sendai, which was near the epicenter of the devastating earthquake that ravaged Japan back in March 2011. He was practicing at his hometown rink when he felt the ice beneath his feet begin to shake and shift, and had to evacuate while still wearing his skates. Hanyu was profoundly affected by the disaster, plagued by memories of his near-death experience at only 16 years old and unsure if he should even continue skating.
Luckily, Hanyu chose to continue pursuing his dream and in 2012 he left his hometown to begin training in Toronto, leaving his long-time coach Nanami Abe in favor of renowned figure skater and coach Brian Orser (Orser also trains Spanish figure skater Javier Fernandez, who came up just 2 points shy of the bronze medal). In April 2012, Hanyu published his autobiography titled Blue Flames and donated all of his royalties and part of the proceeds from the book to the Sendai ice rink. He continues to donate to earthquake and tsunami disaster relief and urges his fans and supporters to do so as well.
Even before coming to the Sochi Olympics, Yuzuru Hanyu had racked up an impressive resume in men’s figure skating. In 2010 Hanyu won gold in his first World Junior Championships. Then he placed third for the bronze at the 2012 World Championships. Hanyu won his second national title at the 2013 Japan Championships, which earned him a spot on the Japanese Olympics team. This past December he also won gold at the Grand Prix Final in Fukuoka, edging out Canadian favorite and three-time world champion Patrick Chan. Hanyu’s 99.84 points in the short program at Fukuoka stood as a world record until his most recent performance.
Yuzuru Hanyu is known for his love of Winnie the Pooh and brings his stuffed Winnie the Pooh tissue holder to all of his competitions. The ever-present bear has become so famous among skating fans that it even has its own twitter account @HanyusPooh.
Hanyu’s biggest weakness is his stamina in the longer programs caused by his asthma, but he more than makes up for it with his smooth and graceful technical ability, as well as his GOE (grade of execution) and program component scores. According to coach Orser, Hanyu has even started wearing masks during practice to build up his cardio and stamina on the ice. Despite his limitations, Yuzuru Hanyu has already established himself as the best figure skater in the world, and at only 19 years of age it’s expected that he’ll continue to improve and amaze for years to come.