Hanyu Yuzuru offers inspiration to next generation as double Olympic champ enters third Games

The two-time and reigning gold medallist at the Games heads for Beijing 2022 with a sparkling CV - and a chance to make more history on the ice.

By Nick McCarvel
Picture by Kentaro Aragaki/Olympic Channel

It's official: Hanyu Yuzuru is headed back to the Winter Olympic Games.

The 27-year-old figure skater is the two-time reigning Olympic champion, and has the chance at Beijing 2022 to do something that no male skater has done in nearly a century: Win a third-consecutive Olympic gold medal.

The last time a men's skater successfully won a trio of consecutive golds was in 1928. Gillis Grafström completed the feat then for Sweden. Back-to-back golds are so rare in singles, in fact, that Hanyu's PyeongChang 2018 triumph was the first successful defence of a gold in men's singles since Dick Button, the American winning in 1948 and 1952.

"The Olympics to me was a dream up until PyeongChang. I won gold there and in Sochi; it’s the dream I had as a child and it was my lifelong goal," Hanyu told reporters on Sunday (26 December).

He added: "But I’m the only one in figure skating who is eligible for a third straight gold medal. That's my right. These Games might not be the dream I’ve always had, but I want to show a stronger version of me, one different from last time and the time before."

But Hanyu's appearance at the coming Games is a feat in and of itself: Having left his training base - and coach Brian Orser - in Toronto at the outset of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020, Hanyu found himself often training alone, coached over video calls and clips from coaches and choreographers thousands of miles away.

At the start of the Olympic season, he then suffered a similar right ankle injury as he had faced in 2017 in the lead-up to PyeongChang, but still arrived at the Japanese national championships in good shape. On Sunday he won his sixth national title in what was his season debut event, having missed both of his Grand Prix assignments.

He topped both Olympic silver medallist Uno Shoma and Youth Olympics champion Kagiyama Yuma en route to victory, all while chasing the one goal he's talked more about than anything else in the last two years: his quest for the quadruple Axel, the never-done-before jump.

Hanyu attempted a quad Axel in the free skate in Saitama, landing the jump but doing so on two feet and completing his rotation on the ice, meaning the jump was downgraded by the technical judging panel.

Building on a legacy: Hanyu in Beijing

Each of Hanyu, Uno and Kagiyama will be eyeing the podium in Beijing, along with Americans Nathan Chen and Vincent Zhou (both of whom still need to be named for the Games), as well as the ROC's Mikhail Kolyada - among others.

Hanyu will also be leading a Japanese squad in the figure skating team event (now in its third Olympics) that has a chance at earning a medal, too, with a strengthened presence in both pair skating and ice dance.

No matter how he performs, Hanyu continues to push himself forward in a sport where he's already won two Olympic golds, two world titles, his aforementioned six national titles as well as four Grand Prix Finals and eight other Grand Prix golds, among other accomplishments.

His legacy-building has included a fan base unlike any other athlete's in the world, one that has helped make Hanyu a household name in his home country of Japan, and the most recognizable figure skater in the world.

Many of those fans - and the greater sports world at large - have watched as Hanyu has tried for the quad Axel. It's an effort that shows a glimpse into an athlete's approach that is never satisfied: Hanyu always is striving for more, no matter his past accomplishments.

"This was not an Olympics I was thinking about", Hanyu admitted as the Japanese Olympic team was unveiled. "But because of what it took to get here and all the support I’ve had - [and] which I still have - I decided to compete at these Games.

"And as long as I’m in it, I’m going to make sure I do everything I can to win it. I’m taking the quad Axel as a weapon."

Therein lies so much of what will make Hanyu so compelling in Beijing - no matter the outcome. His legacy is sealed, but he continues to compete: With himself, with his peers and with history.

Japanese medallists, (L-R) Uno, Hanyu and Kagiyama
Picture by Kentaro Aragaki/Olympic Channel

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