Japan 'Ice Prince' Yuzuru Hanyu ends 12-year competition career

Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu said on Tuesday (July 19) he would turn professional and retire from competition.
PHOTO: Reuters

TOKYO — Japan's Yuzuru Hanyu, a two-times Olympic figure-skating champion whose attempt to pull off a third gold ended in a fourth place result at the Beijing Games in February, said on Tuesday (July 19) he would turn professional and retire from competition.

A skating phenomenon whose determination has been legendary — he became the first man in over half-a-century to win back-to-back Olympic golds at PyeongChang in 2018, while skating on an injured ankle he was taking painkillers to endure — his future had been uncertain since his fourth place showing at Beijing.

It was the end of a storied competition career for the man considered one of the greatest skaters of all time, a run that included two world championship wins, four Grand Prix final crowns and six victories at the Japan nationals, besides the two Olympic golds.

Making the announcement at a news conference in Tokyo, the 27-year-old said, however, that he saw the next stage of his skating career as a beginning, not an end.

"As a pro skater I want to keep on fighting and go to an even higher stage," said Hanyu, wearing a dark suit and silver tie, occasionally pausing to sigh deeply.

The slender, photogenic Hanyu has been wildly popular throughout his career with fans around the world, many of whom would follow him from competition to competition, shouting "Yuzu!" and throwing "Winnie the Pooh" stuffed animals onto the ice after a performance - animals that would later be donated to hospitals or children's homes.

Nicknamed "Ice Prince", Hanyu had built up anticipation for the Beijing competition by promising to attempt the quadruple axel, or "4A" — a 4-1/2-rotation jump never before landed by anyone in competition — but fell short of that goal.

"At Beijing, I didn't make it to the top, but I think that it was a place where I could prove that I could keep on fighting."

At that competition, a rare mistake during his short programme when he missed an opening quadruple Salchow jump cost him precious points, leaving him in eighth place.

Blaming a divot in the ice for making him skip the jump, Hanyu said he had been comfortable with his level of concentration and lamented, with a forced laugh, "Nothing was wrong with my skating, so I'm thinking maybe the ice doesn't like me anymore."

On Tuesday, he said he would continue his pursuit of the 4A outside the competitive realm.

A native of Sendai in northern Japan, Hanyu was practicing when the 9.0 magnitude March 11, 2011, earthquake struck. He fled the rink in his skates as the ice cracked around him.

He and his family subsequently spent time in an evacuation centre because of damage to their home, sleeping shoulder-to-shoulder with strangers on a gymnasium floor.

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Later, a tribute routine to the disaster victims became a part of his exhibition repertoire.

Known for his pre-performance rituals, which included having a box of tissues in a Pooh container at the ringside and slapping the sides of the rink before skating into the centre of the rink, Hanyu could also be impish, teasing photographers at rinkside.

But it was his ferocious powers of concentration that kept his skating skills near peak level at an age when many skaters decide to call it quits that won him the respect of his fellow skaters, none of whom counted him out for a third Olympic gold despite a growing history of injuries.

He also had to overcome asthma, which at one point limited his strength and training time.