Return of the ice prince: Yuzuru Hanyu reveals motivation before new season

Japan's reigning double Olympic champion is back, but will injuries allow him to be at his best?

Yuzuru Hanyu's frozen empire awaits.

The charismatic, enigmatic skate mega-star makes his much anticipated comeback at the 2019 Skate Canada Autumn Classic International on September 12 - his first time on competitive ice since finishing second to Nathan Chen at the ISU World Championships in March.

So what can we expect from the double Olympic champion this 2019/20 season, and what keeps him motivated?

With over five months to recover physically and recharge mentally, Hanyu is fit and planning to compete a full season.

The 24-year-old has been performing in off-season shows in Japan and by all accounts has a clean bill of health, no visible signs of lingering damage from the right ankle injured at the Rostelecom Cup in Russia last November, then aggravated again at the Worlds.

A first injury-free season in three years would allow Hanyu to concentrate on his technical elements and the next-generation jumps that can take him back to the top of the world rankings.

Right now the Sochi 2014 and PyeongChang 2018 champion is fourth in the world behind Nathan Chen, Shoma Uno, and Mikhail Kolyada.

  • Mao Asada:

    Mao Asada: "Yuzuru Hanyu is the best male skater ever"

  • Hanyu:

    Hanyu: "It's not just about beating others, but overcoming yourself."

Year of the quad axel?

Innovate or evaporate.

Athletes who spend most of their time on ice understand this better than anyone, and Yuzuru Hanyu is the perfect example of a figure skater who is never satisfied with the status quo.

The 'Prince of Ice' is always out to push the impossible and set new boundaries.

Before the beginning of last season, Hanyu talked up the possibility of landing the never-seen-before quad axel in competition, saying:

“I’d like to jump (the quad axel) within this season. I feel the pressure to complete the jump before this deadline.”

Injury struck and that feat never materialised, but he's repeated that it's a possibility again before the start of this term in an interview with Japanese monthly magazine Aera:

"The Technical Element Scores (TES) are getting higher and higher with several skaters clearing the barrier of quads.

"I'd like to overcome more barriers. I'd like to be in the position where, no matter what happens - even if they skate their free skate clean - if I skate clean, I will win."

"I'll do my best to land the quad Axel, the quad Lutz, and the quad flip." - Yuzuru Hanyu

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Nathan Chen-Yuzuru Hanyu: Rivarly to define an era?

When Nathan Chen defeated Yuzuru Hanyu on home ground in Saitama to win his second straight world championship title, it highlighted to the world once more that we have one of the greatest rivalries in the history of figure skating on our hands.

Scott Hamilton-Scott Cramer in the 70s, Katarina Witt vs. Debi Thomas and Brian Boitano v Brian Orser in the 80s, Michelle Kwan and Tara Lipinski in the 90s, Alexei Yagudin vs. Evgeni Plushenko and Yuna Kim v Mao Asada in the noughties, Patrick Chan vs. Yuzuru Hanyu up to 2014, Hanyu vs. Javier Fernandez until PyeongChang, and now Hanyu v Nathan Chen.

As with all great sporting rivalries, these two fierce competitors will force each other to reach even greater heights.

"To me, losing is like death." - Yuzuru Hanyu

But has there ever been a fiercer, and at the same time nicer, rivalry in the history of sport?

"I just have so much respect for Yuzu," Chen told Olympic Channel after his Worlds win in Japan.

The feeling is mutual between the two.

"I really want to beat Nathan because I have a great respect for him." - Yuzuru Hanyu

But make no mistake, both are born winners and competitors who consider the top of the podium the only place to be.

The chance to watch the two-time Olympic champion face off against the two-time world champion makes this season feel box office before it even begins.

Nathan Chen is 20, Hanyu 24. Beijing 2022 could be the grand finale and a perfect ending to a rivalry that looks sure to go down in history.

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Will Yuzuru Hanyu compete at Beijing 2022?

But with the worrying recurrence of Hanyu's injuries - particularly his ankles - will he make it to the Winter Olympics in China in two and a half years' time?

Plagued by injury last season, the Japanese skater with rock-star status is not committing to anything.

When asked at the beginning of the 2018/19 season, after winning the Autumn Classic, whether he was going to compete in Beijing he simply said:

"I'm not thinking of Beijing 2022."

Asked again in the interview with Japanese magazine Aera in April 2019, Yuzu gave this cryptic reply:

"I managed to win twice, but the Olympics are something special. The Olympic Games are what every athlete and figure skater wants to win. Winning them makes you a true champion.

"I am going to look forward to thinking about who will win at the Beijing Games."

What does that mean?

As with many other things in the realm of Yuzuru Hanyu, it remains a mystery.

  • HANYU: I'm not thinking of Beijing 2022

    HANYU: I'm not thinking of Beijing 2022

  • Yuzuru Hanyu happy to say nothing at all!

    Yuzuru Hanyu happy to say nothing at all!

Yuzu-mania

One thing is for sure, even after nearly six months off competitive ice, 'Fanyus' haven't given up on their hero.

The chance alone that Hanyu was going to be assigned the Autumn Classic event in Canada saw tickets and hotels rooms sell out long before he was even confirmed.

His feverish following will be at the Skate Canada Grand Prix in Kelowna from 25-27 October 2019, and the volume will go up again at his second GP assignment which comes at the NHK Trophy in Sapporo, Japan, from 22-24 November.

Makomanai Ice Arena stages the event, where Hanyu will be looking for his fourth NHK Trophy, and where he defeated Nathan Chen to take the title in Sapporo in 2016, the last time the event was held there.

The GP Final is scheduled for 5-8 December 2019 in Turin, Italy.

Hanyu could break new ground by winning a fifth Grand Prix Final this season - no-one has achieved that before - but it will very much depend on fitness as he has missed the last two finals because of ankle injuries.

  • What next for double Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu after a rollercoaster year?

    What next for double Olympic champ Yuzuru Hanyu after a rollercoaster year?

Hanyu's motivation: "Winning is my duty"

So what keeps motivating this global headline hero to fight through the pain back to fitness when he has already won two Olympic gold medals?

While it's obvious that they love him, Hanyu also sends the love back to his many, many fans, saying that they are his motivation to continue being the best he can be.

In the interview below after the 'Fantasy On Ice' show in Kobe in May 2019, Yuzu looks relaxed and happy, playful and genuinely appreciative of all the support, adoration, and Winnie the Pooh Bears that come his way.

"There are so many people supporting me, so for these people, I feel that achieving results is my job, that it's my duty." - Yuzuru Hanyu

"I would like to properly perform this mission-like role."

Bring on the new season.

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