Hanyu Yuzuru has been training solo at home, eyes spot at world championships

The two-time Olympic figure skating champion is competing for the first time in 10 months, taking part in the Japanese national championships in Nagano.

By Nick McCarvel

Training at home in Japan for much of the year, Hanyu Yuzuru said Thursday (24 December) he's felt the challenge that many athletes have in 2020: "It has been really difficult to take care of myself."

The two-time Olympic figure skating champion is in Nagano for the Japanese national championships, and spoke to the media after his first official practice.

"I have been practicing by myself without a coach every day", said Hanyu, who is normally based in Toronto with coach Brian Orser. "It has been really difficult to take care of myself. I've been avoiding contact with anyone, except for my family, as much as possible. And I barely went outside."

"But at the same time, that provided me with the environment where I can concentrate on skating and practicing well". - Hanyu Yuzuru.

Hanyu is competing for the first time since February, when he won at Four Continents for the first time in his career.

On Thursday afternoon he practiced in a group that included PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist Uno Shoma as well as the up-and-coming Kagiyama Yuma, who at 17 won the NHK Trophy last month in his senior Grand Prix debut.

Hanyu has spent a good part of 2020 at home in Japan, and opted out of the Grand Prix Series due to concerns around his own health (he suffers from asthma) and that of others.

Hanyu: Worlds is the goal

While Hanyu did not skate at the NHK Trophy, he said he has not changed his approach when it comes to COVID-19 safety precautions.

"Personally, I am trying to avoid anything that may lead to infection as much as possible," he said. "As we are currently facing the third wave, I had a lot of struggles about whether or not I should participate this time.

"But since Four Continents has been cancelled, I had no choice but to compete at the nationals in order to be selected for the world championships, in which I hope to compete".

The International Skating Union cancelled Four Continents - originally set for February 2021 in Sydney - in October. The worlds are still set to go on, with organisers in Stockholm announcing strict protocols for safety in the recent weeks.

Much interest has been generated around Hanyu's programs for this season. His short program was choreographed by Torino 2006 bronze medallist Jeffrey Buttle, while reports in the Japanese media say that Shae-Lynn Bourne has done his free skate.

Hanyu has worked with the two choreographers for a long time: Buttle for seven seasons, Bourne for six.

Hanyu did a run-through in practice of his free skate on Thursday. Though not officially announced, his music for the free is understood to be "Heaven and Earth", with traditional Japanese instruments, and "Let Me Entertain You" in the short program.

He detailed his programs' technical elements to the press.

"For my free (program), I will have a quad loop and Salchow. In the latter half, I am planning to have two quad toe loop jumps," he said.

"For the short program, I will have a quad Salchow and a combination of quad toe loop-triple toe loops in the first half. In the latter half, I am planning to have a triple Axel.

"For my free program, I have a story to tell. But I want to appeal to people’s feelings or backgrounds regardless of what the story is. For the short program, I am hoping to offer something that will provoke emotions in those who watch my performance".

A different kind of 2020

Hanyu has been through a difficult year like many athletes. The worlds were cancelled this past March in Montreal as the pandemic worsened globally, and he was forced away from his training base in Toronto.

Orser said in August that the two had not been doing video check-ins for practice.

Hanyu said he learned a lot from himself while practicing alone.

"It was a good opportunity for me to learn how to control myself and to analyze myself in depth because I was alone," he said. "Also, I got to find out how badly or well I perform not because of exterior factors, but from within myself."

In September, Hanyu earned his college degree from Waseda University in Japan, having first started working on his studies in 2013. He completed most of his courses via remote learning from Toronto, majoring in human information science.

Hanyu is seeking his fifth national title and first since the 2015-16 season. It's Uno who has won the last four, including last year when he was first, Hanyu second and Kagiyama third.

The men kick off the Japanese national championships on Friday (25 December) with the short program, set to begin at 12:30pm local time (GMT+9).