“The Inside Edge” is a column by Faith Bonds about figure skating.
Behind the humble, determined face of Yuzuru Hanyu lies the uncontested king of figure skating.
The Japanese skater—a two-time Olympic champion and world record-holder several times over—gave a magical performance over the weekend at Skate Canada in Kelowna, British Columbia. He notched 322.59 points, receiving maximum base value on all six of his spins and one of two step sequences en route to a 60-point victory over silver medalist Nam Nguyen.
Hanyu also completed four quads in the freeskate and two in the short, garnering positive grades of execution on all but one. Hanyu didn’t sacrifice artistry for technical production, either The powerful skater made his 2019 Grand Prix debut with an excellent rendition of “Art on Ice,” showcasing his signature speed and passion in front of the Canadian audience.
Despite his absolute decimation of the competition, the perfectionist continues to find points where he can improve.
“I want to be smoother in every jump, every step, every element” he told the International Skating Union (ISU) after his freeskate Saturday. “I want to impress more.”
Well, Yuzuru, consider us impressed.
The only competitor who can compare with Hanyu’s eminence is American Nathan Chen. Chen has broken Hanyu’s records on several occasions, only for Hanyu to fire back and reclaim his spot atop the leaderboard.
The 20-year-old got the best of Hanyu at this year’s World Championships, though, capitalizing on Hanyu’s numerous technical mistakes en route to his second-straight world title. The loss proved Hanyu was, in fact, human. Even so, Chen recognized Hanyu’s royal status in the skating world.
“Every time Yuzu skates, he does something amazing and incredible and it’s just a huge honor to be able to skate with him, skate after him, especially knowing how he sets the bar,” Chen said. “It’s great to be able to follow that.”
Hanyu came out this season with guns blazing, and his journey to reclaim the world title has only just begun. It’s impossible to compare results competition-to-competition, but the Japanese skater totaled about 23.5 points more at Skate Canada than Chen did at Skate America the week prior. This signals an early-season prediction that a clean Hanyu will place ahead of a clean Chen when the duo faces off in December at the Grand Prix Final.
Hanyu also averaged 9.67 out of 10 on his component scores this weekend, while Chen came in slightly lower at 9.35 at Skate America. Again, that disparity could be due to which judges attended the event, but Hanyu’s artistry and skating skills were generally given higher reward than Chen’s.
What makes this skater so dominant is his meticulous attention to detail. Improvement isn’t a choice to him; each of his performances must be stronger than the last, whether that comes from higher technical difficulty, smoother transitions or a deeper connection with the audience. For this reason, Hanyu continues to shatter his own records and add quads to his unparalleled technical arsenal.
"I want to do the quad Axel this season,” Hanyu said following his win at the Autumn International Classic last month.
Landing the quad Axel would add to Hanyu’s laundry list of firsts in the sport. In three separate competitions, he became the first skater to break 100 points in the short program, 200 points in the freeskate and 300 points total. He was also the first to successfully land a quadruple loop jump in competition and has reigned at No. 1 in the world standings for the past five seasons.
Hanyu began his rise to international dominance at the age of 17 when he earned a bronze medal at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships, finishing 3 points behind three-time world champion Patrick Chan. After that medal, he moved moved from Japan to Toronto, Canada, electing to train under Olympic silver medalist Brian Orser for the 2014 Sochi Olympics.
Though he didn’t yet have much clout on the international scene, Hanyu’s ridiculous ambition pushed him to go for the gold. Many coaches, fans and pundits—myself included—thought 2014 wasn’t yet his time to push for such a lofty goal. But Hanyu was willing to do anything to stand atop the podium in Sochi.
“He sent me the most incredible email, and it was just this absolute declaration of how badly he wanted to win the Olympics,” said Hanyu’s long-time choreographer David Wilson in an interview with the Japan Times. “He wrote, ‘I don’t want to wait until the next Olympics to be the Olympic champion, I want to be the Olympic champion now. And I’m willing to do anything to make that happen, so please, please help me.’”
The marriage between Wilson’s masterful choreography and Hanyu’s hunger for victory birthed an iconic program: a powerfully unique freeskate to “Romeo and Juliet.” Though he didn’t perform it perfectly in Russia, Hanyu did enough to best Chan, the heavy gold-medal favorite.
With each year since that Olympic triumph, Hanyu has risen further beyond his competitors. Despite dealing with severe injuries to his back, head, foot and ankle, Hanyu continues to deliver at key moments and add new entries to the record book every season.
After securing two Olympic gold medals and a pair of world titles, the 24-year-old champion feels he’s not yet done making his mark on the sport.
“I don’t know what my best is,” he said. “I need to fight with the pressure and continue competing...I want to use the experience that I have and attack every competition.”
No matter the results he achieves throughout the rest of his career, skating fans can be sure of one fact: the greatest competitor Hanyu can ever face is his own ambition.
“The Inside Edge” runs every Wednesday.
An earlier version of this column implied that Hanyu’s 2014 Olympic short program to “Parisienne Walkways” was choreographed by David Wilson, when it was in fact choreographed by Jeffrey Buttle. Annenberg Media apologizes for the error.