February 14, 2014
Three years after Yuzuru Hanyu's worst moment on the ice, he achieved his greatest one.
As the Japanese figure skater won a gold medal at 2014 Olympic Winter Games in Sochi, his thoughts remained on the people in his hometown of Sendai who were still rebuilding their lives following a devastating earthquake in March 2011.
“I am here because of all the people in Japan who helped me, all the people around the world who supported me,” he said at the time. “Hopefully I am able to give something good back, to return the favour if you will.”
Hanyu had had been training at his local ice rink in Sendai when the massive 9.0 Tohoku earthquake struck just off the Pacific coast of Japan. Then 16, he had to rush out still wearing his skates as the rink collapsed behind him. More than 15,000 people were killed by the quake and 6,000 seriously injured.
“When I close my eyes I remember a lot of things,” he said. “The feeling of the ice shaking, the ground being pushed up, my legs shaking.”
Finding his focus
When he took the ice in the men’s singles short program at the Iceberg Skating Palace in Sochi, Hanyu was only focused on his performance. He started the competition well, leading by four points following the short program.. There were brilliant moments in his free program too, which he performed to the music of “Romeo and Juliet.” But there were some calamitous ones as well.
He fell on his opening quadruple salchow and twice touched the ice with both hands, even though he made amends by landing a fantastic quadruple toe loop.
At the end Hanyu stayed crouched with his head bowed, seemingly thinking his chances of glory had disappeared. Next up was Canada’s Patrick Chan, the triple world champion. All he had to do was put in a solid performance and gold seemed to be up for grabs, but Chan couldn’t take advantage, twice touching the ice and landing unsteadily.
In the end, Hanyu won the competition by five points, becoming the first male Japanese figure skater to claim Olympic gold and the second youngest male winner of all time. He’s the overwhelming favorite to win again in PyeongChang, although an ankle injury suffered in November may keep him out of international competition until shortly before the Olympics.