Hanyu named Most Valuable Skater at ISU Skating Awards

Two-time Olympic champion claims top honour as Alena Kostornaia takes top newcomer gong and Kurt Browning receives Lifetime Achievement Award.

Hanyu Yuzuru claimed the top honour at the first ISU Skating Awards on Saturday (11 July).

The double Olympic champion was named Most Valuable Skater for the 2019/20 season ahead of his perennial rival Nathan Chen and four-time world ice dance champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron.

After his defeat to Chen at the Grand Prix Final and second place to Uno Shoma at the Japanese nationals, Hanyu reverted to the programs which won him his second Olympic title at PyeongChang 2018 and won the Four Continents in Seoul to complete a 'Super Slam' of major international titles.

Hanyu Yuzuru performing during the gala at the All Japan Figure Skating Championships
Hanyu Yuzuru performing during the gala at the All Japan Figure Skating ChampionshipsHanyu Yuzuru performing during the gala at the All Japan Figure Skating Championships

With a huge fanbase around the world, the Japanese remains the biggest draw in figure skating and admitted that the buzz surrounding him has its downside.

Speaking during the virtual awards ceremony, Hanyu said, "For me personally, all the eyes and voices from the fans are added pressure for me. I always sense their expectation and their pressure, even if it's just a practice. To be honest, sometimes it's tough. But this pressure actually makes me stronger.

"It would be terrible if no one expected anything from me. Of course, I can't always deliver at 100 percent but what I always try to do is respond to their expectation at a 120-percent level."

When asked if he had any advice for skaters of the next generation, Hanyu replied, "Each skater has their own style, what they want to express... what they want to be able to do are so different to each other. That's why I am in no position to give advice. I just want to enjoy the best figure skating from the world's top skaters."

"In almost every moment of my daily life, I'm constantly thinking about figure skating and I'm always hoping to become better and stronger." - ISU Most Valuable Skater award winner Hanyu Yuzuru

New awards for a new age

Held for the first time at the end of a season curtailed by the COVID-19 pandemic, the ISU Awards were hosted by married couple Tanith White (nee Belbin) and Charlie White who both won Olympic ice dance medals, the latter claiming gold at Sochi 2014 with Meryl Davis.

The nominations were decided by online votes registered by the public, media and ISU Members between 1 December 2019 and 10 February 2020, coming from an initial shortlist based on results during the 2019/20 season.

The ISU jury of six former figure skating stars - two-time world pairs champion Eric Radford, world champions Chen Lu, Todd Eldredge and Ando Miki, five-time European champion Surya Bonaly, and Olympic ice dance gold medallist Tatiana Navka - picked the winners in each category and sent the results to the hosts.

The Best Newcomer award went to Alena Kostornaia after a quite incredible debut senior season which saw her win the Grand Prix Final and the European title.

The 16-year-old Russian beat compatriot Alexandra Trusova and Lausanne 2020 YOG gold medallist You Young to the title.

Reflecting on her season, Kostornaia said, "It was nerve-racking to start my senior career. When I was in the top three, it gave me extra motivation in training and it pushed me to become stronger. When I started the season, I couldn't imagine that I would be able to achieve this.

"Figure skating isn't just about jumps - the audience should enjoy what they are seeing." - Alena Kostornaia

Alena Kostornaia during her free skate at the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin
Alena Kostornaia during her free skate at the 2019 Grand Prix Final in TurinAlena Kostornaia during her free skate at the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin

Kostornaia's trainer Eteri Tutberidze was unable to join in the webcast but claimed the Best Coach award for her work with the '3A' - the third being Anna Shcherbakova - before Trusova's departure to join Evgeni Plushenko in May.

The Most Entertaining Program award went to reigning ice dance world champions Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron for their 1980s workout-inspired rhythm dance based on the musical 'Fame'.

Kevin Aymoz and Evgenia Medvedeva were the runners-up.

Papadakis said of the routine, "It was really fun. It's a part of our personality that was inside us but we'd never really shown it to the public yet. We were doubtful whether it would be a good idea but we decided to go for it and we don't regret it.

"It's a program that's in the 80s which is not our style, because we're not from the 80s obviously. But I found to get into the mood, it was about listening to 80s music and trying to get into that vibe which was super-fun. We were watching videos of that era, and a lot of the movements that we kept were at first kind of jokes, like, 'It would be so funny to do this movement.' And that's why the program is so fun for us because it started as, 'Let's just have fun.'"

Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron during their ice dance rhythm dance in the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin
Gabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron during their ice dance rhythm dance in the 2019 Grand Prix Final in TurinGabriella Papadakis and Guillaume Cizeron during their ice dance rhythm dance in the 2019 Grand Prix Final in Turin

The French duo's rivals and training partners Madison Chock and Evan Bates beat Hanyu and Anna Shcherbakova to the Best Costume award for their outfits in their free dance.

The costumes were handmade by Quebec-based designer Mathieu Caron with Chock having a big say in the design.

She said: "It was really important to make sure that our story was clear, that the costumes emulated our characters very well. For me being the snake, I felt like I wanted the dress to be very fitted and feel like a snake skin. And I think Mathieu and his team did an incredible job bringing that to life.

"For Evan's as well, he was the traveller and the charmer who entices me the entire program so his costume, I wanted it to look like he'd been travelling... so rips and tears but in a fashionable way of course."

Madison Chock and Evan Bates during their free skate at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships
Madison Chock and Evan Bates during their free skate at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating ChampionshipsMadison Chock and Evan Bates during their free skate at the 2020 U.S. Figure Skating Championships

An emotional Shae-Lynn Bourne took the Best Choreographer award ahead of Lori Nichol and Marie-France Dubreuil.

The inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award went to four-time world champion Kurt Browning.

Despite failing to win an Olympic medal, the Canadian was one of the finest competitive skaters of his generation and still takes part in exhibition events.

He has also choreographed for the likes of Hanyu, Patrick Chan, Javier Fernandez and Tara Lipinski.

Browning said, "I love skating. I am a lifer and I think that there's something that happens when the blades glide across the ice, and then when that's compounded with an audience and music and physicality and challenge and competition and excitement...

"I am so enthralled and thrilled with this sport that I kind of hope I never quit. I hope I'm connected to it somehow someway for the rest of my life. Thank you, everybody." - ISU Lifetime Achievement Award recipient Kurt Browning

ISU Lifetime Achievement Award winner Kurt Browning competing at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympic Games
ISU Lifetime Achievement Award winner Kurt Browning competing at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympic GamesISU Lifetime Achievement Award winner Kurt Browning competing at the Lillehammer 1994 Winter Olympic Games

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