Figure Skating and the Impact of Yuzuru Hanyu’s Retirement

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Samantha Luan, Staff Writer

When you think of figure skating, you might think of names such as Nathan Chen or Yuna Kim. Michelle Kwan or Kristi Yamaguchi. Or you might think of Yuzuru Hanyu, known as the Greatest of All Time (the G.O.A.T) of figure skating. The Japanese figure skater is well-known for an incredible career of 24 years’ worth of success and achievements. Hanyu announced his retirement on July 19th, 2022, subsequently shocking the world. This is why his retirement will change the world of figure skating.

But first, let’s explore Hanyu’s beginnings as a skater. Hanyu began his career with simple beginnings. The Japanese skater was 4-years-old when he started skating, wanting to learn and follow in the footsteps of his older sister, Sayu Hanyu, despite the fact that he suffered from asthma. However, it wasn’t until he watched the battle for gold between Russian rivals Alexai Yagudin and Evgeni Plushenko at the 2002 Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City, Utah that he began to treat the sport seriously. Within some time, he was beginning to make a name for himself in the Juniors division, winning multiple Junior Grand Prix events and even placing first at the 2010 World Junior competition. 

At the age of 15, he moved onto the senior division and continued to achieve a steady number of personal accomplishments as time passed. That was before the 2011 Tōhoku Earthquake devastated Japan and brought extreme damage to the cities of Japan, including Hanyu’s hometown, Sendai, and his home rink. In the coming months, he trained away from home and participated in numerous ice shows for practice, as he had no place to train. Simultaneously, he raised money for victims of the natural disaster.

In 2012, he made the major decision of switching coaches and relocated to Canada to train under Brian Orser, juggling training in Canada and high school in Sendai. A slew of successes followed this decision. During 2012 alone, he set two world records and won his first national title at the 2012-2013 Japan Championships. In the coming years, he’d make wave after wave in the figure skating world, having broken 19 world records and winning two Olympic Gold Medals, one at the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi at the young age of 19 and one at the 2018 Winter Olympics in Pyeongchang at 24-years-old. These medals also made him the first to win back-to-back Olympic gold medals since Dick Button in 1948 and 1952. 

Hanyu is the first man to land a quadruple loop, consisting of four revolutions, or turns in the air, successfully in a competition. Additionally, he was the first figure skater to break the 100-point barrier in the short program, and the 200 and 300-point barriers in the free program, in turn wreaking havoc on figure skating’s original scoring system.

All of his achievements, however, have not come without a price. It is common knowledge that many athletes, if not all of them, sustain injuries while competing constantly and straining their bodies in the process, and Hanyu is no exception. It is heavily due to his injured right ankle, which he has struggled with for years now, that prompted his choice to retire after the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. Ankles are a figure skater’s life, and continuous injury to his ankle has likely caused permanent damage to it. Despite this, he continued to fight against his body’s limitations and chose to continue competing.

Inevitably, the figure skating world won’t be the same without Hanyu. You may wonder, why is that? He’s simply another extremely successful figure skater, just like Nathan Chen or Evgeni Plushenko, isn’t he? I, and many other people, would disagree. 

It isn’t just his skating achievements or magnificent sense of artistry on the ice that makes him so relevant, it’s his fanbase and outreach in the world. Hanyu has millions of fans around the world, many of whom flock and gather at the chance to see the Japanese figure skater skate in real life, subsequently encouraging and increasing numbers of people to watch figure skating overall. More than 100,000 people, including fans from all around the world who traveled to Sendai, attended his celebration parade after the skater won gold in Pyeongchang. 

Hanyu received a People’s Honor award, had memorials and monuments installed in his name and achievements, and was awarded a Medal of Honor after each Olympic win. It’s an official acknowledgment of his hard work but to many, it’s an acknowledgment of how much he’s gone through to get to the place he is now. Hanyu is well-loved among the figure skating community and fans, and you truly would have seen him everywhere on social media during Olympic seasons. The “Pooh-rains” or the showers of Winnie the Pooh (Hanyu’s mascot of sorts) stuffed animals that occur after his performances certainly attest to this. Some people call it the “Yuzu Effect”.

Hanyu’s retirement will most certainly affect the figure skating industry and the number of people that will watch the sport. Competition attendees will likely decrease in numbers, views on social media platforms, etc. Figure skating has never been the most popular sport in the world and after Hanyu’s retirement, its recent success will likely see a downward spiral until another figure skater can take his place, if that’s even possible. 

Furthermore, I interviewed Amber Cheung, ASB Sophomore President and figure skater of 8-9 years, regarding Hanyu’s retirement and its impact. 

“I really look up to Yuzuru Hanyu and Michelle Kwan because they have phenomenal artistry and made history in the figure skating world. Although my heart breaks for Hanyu’s retirement, I am so glad he gets to rest now and actually pursue his passion without all the competition stress, as we know it played a part in his announcement. His retirement impacted the skating world in so many ways. I hope one day he finally lands the quadruple axel and makes history once again,” Cheung stated.

In conclusion, Hanyu’s retirement from competitive skating will change the figure skating world forever. But who knows? He himself states that he will continue to attempt the quadruple axel. “I want to keep challenging . . . I want to land the quadruple axel in front of everybody,” said Hanyu. The quadruple axel is a jump that is often considered impossible and consists of four and a half revolutions. Maybe one day Hanyu will return to the ice to perform it before his army of fans, showing a possibility of him returning to the ice. A famous quote of his, however, is “Efforts will lie, but they will not be in vain.” 

I believe the primary reason that makes him so inspiring and attractive to his fans and the world is his strength and continuous dedication to figure skating. The world sees the love he has for the ice and respects it. That is what makes Hanyu so special and irreplaceable to the world of figure skating.

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