“Today I felt at ease.”
It had been 10 months since two-time Olympic and world champion Hanyu Yuzuru had skated competitively, winning Four Continents for the first time in February to add to his long list of figure skating titles.
With the pandemic disrupting sports around the world in 2020, Hanyu made the move from his training base in Toronto with Brian Orser to back home in Japan, where he primarily worked solo, receiving choreography from Jeffrey Buttle and Shae-Lynn Bourne.
His fifth Japanese national title in Nagano was a clear message after what has been a challenging year: I’ve worked hard and I’m still motivated.
He won by a comfortable 35 points over PyeongChang 2018 silver medallist Uno Shoma, who also showed some of his best skating in the free skate. Teenager Kagiyama Yuma was third, the teen displaying both technical and artistic skill in what has been a breakout year for him.
All three will be heading to the World Championships scheduled for Stockholm in late March where Hanyu has a third crown in his sights.
“If the World Championships take place, I should be closer to it because it will be more difficult later,” he told reporters after his victory.
“It was as if I was trying to reach out my hand towards a light in the darkness of the world caused by COVID-19.” - Hanyu Yuzuru
Hanyu: Crediting his team - and himself
Hanyu provided that light with two brilliant yet vastly different skates in Nagano, his jumps buoyant and crisp.
He found particular satisfaction in his four-quadruple jump free skate, having said following the short program that there were things he wanted to work on.
"I was happy I was able to perform (the free skate) well in these circumstances,” he said. “Even though I have been training alone, there were a lot of people supporting me. So I'd like to thank them."
With coach Orser still in Canada, Hanyu thanked his whole team in the 'kiss and cry' as well, saying into the TV camera a message of gratitude that would reach them at home.
He also paid credit to his own hard work, clearly apparent and on display on the ice itself.
"I have dedicated myself in this (free) program. When I hear this music, I get emotional and also give each movement a lot of meanings." - Hanyu Yuzuru on his free skate to "Heaven and Earth"
“But I can't deliver these meanings in the program without succeeding on the jumps. So even though this was the first time, I believe I could deliver what I really wanted to communicate and show in the program because I was able to jump seamlessly."
'I hope to brush up my training'
The 26-year-old said he was motivated by the limited number of fans who were inside the arena in Nagano as well as the ones watching at home, and he’ll take that back to training for the next 10 weeks.
"I have been training alone for a long time and still have some issues in my short program. But today I felt at ease. And I believe spectators also felt the same because I was able to perform as myself,” he said.
“So I felt confident about the way I have been training and that it wasn't wrong. I hope to brush up my training and take on harder jumps without any injuries as it has been helping me to improve and grow."