Yuzuru Hanyu is retiring and figure skating will never be the same
Yuzuru Hanyu, the two-time Olympic champion, said Tuesday that he will no longer compete, and the landscape of the sport of figure skating will never be the same.
To get an idea of how much he has meant to his sport over the past twelve years, consider some of the fans who saw him compete at the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics.
In one corner of the arena, three generations of Hanyu fans – a teenager, his middle-aged mother and his gray-haired grandmother – sat on the edge of their seats, straining to catch a glimpse of him. They wore fuzzy Winnie the Pooh hats that made them look like they had giant stuffed bears tied to their heads, and they were all clutching Winnie the Pooh bears that they planned to throw on the ice after his performance.
Dotting the stands were hundreds of fans like these three, all wearing Pooh gear and on a paparazzi-like mission to follow Hanyu’s every move. In skating circles, these fans are called Fan-yus, and the bears they throw on the ice are Yuzu-Poohs, cute and eye-catching proof that the cult of Yuzuru Hanyu propelled the figure skating fandom to a level never seen before.
There’s a reason fans were obsessed with 27-year-old Hanyu and started wearing Pooh-themed clothes after first seeing him with a Pooh-themed tissue box at the rink in 2010, the year he became world junior champion and began his march to the top of the sport.
With his lucky teddy bear perched somewhere in the rink, Hanyu performed with a rare combination of grace and power, skating across the ice as gently as a gently flowing river before launching into technically challenging jumps that makes his competitors gasp with admiration.
He was equal parts Evgeni Plushenko (known for his jumps) and Johnny Weir (a master of the art). Impersonating two of his skating heroes made Hanyu the most complete skater in sports history. His goal was to appeal to everyone, not just hardcore skating fans or fans from his home country of Japan, and he succeeded.
Hanyu pushed the sport forward with moves and accomplishments that defied convention. When he won gold in 2014 at the Sochi Olympics, he became the first Asian man to win an Olympic gold medal in figure skating and, at 19, he was the youngest winner since the American Dick Button won gold in 1948. In Japan, he became one of the most famous athletes and remained there as a superstar and cultural icon.
Four years later, at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Games, when Hanyu won his second Olympic gold medal, he became the first male skater to win consecutive Olympic gold medals in 66 years, following the second Button’s Olympic victory in 1952. Although the American Nathan Chen was supposed to be Hanyu’s toughest rival at these Olympics, that one-on-one battle disappeared after Chen stumbled in the short program. Hanyu was the big winner, and Chen continues to acknowledge that.
“It was the honor of a lifetime to be able to stand on the same ice as Yuzuru Hanyu,” Chen said on social media on Tuesday. “Thank you for all you have done for the sport, and all you will no doubt continue to do for it.”
Hanyu’s resume is stellar, including breaking world record after world record for points, winning seven world championship medals and becoming the first man to complete a quadruple loop in competition. But his fans also gravitated to him for his intangibles. He didn’t just skate to win. He skated because he loved it and his passion for the sport came through.
On Tuesday, looking calm and saying he wasn’t sad at all, Hanyu announced at a press conference that he would no longer compete because he didn’t need to “go looking for that kind of thing.” ‘assessments’. He proved it at the Beijing Games in 2022.
After spinning just once in her first quadruple jump in her short program at these Olympics, Hanyu was in eighth place. While he could have played it safe in the free skate in an attempt to win a medal, he did the opposite by attempting to become the first person to land a quadruple axel in competition. He came close to landing this axel but didn’t – and fans gasped in unison when he fell. He finished fourth overall and, for the first time in three Olympics, came away empty-handed.
Hanyu’s competitive career is over, but don’t assume he’s retiring from the sport. During his press conference on Tuesday, he was careful not to use the word retirement, explaining that he just doesn’t like the sound. He promised to continue skating and strive to perfect new skills.
“I want to keep challenging myself,” he said. “I want to land the quadruple axel in front of everyone.”
And if he pulls off that elusive leap, finally, chances are an army of fans will be ready to witness it.
To celebrate, they’ll be raining bear cubs on the ice, just like they always have. And just like they did when he won his Olympic medals, these bears will transform the glassy white surface of the rink into a field of fuzzy golden Yuzu-Poohs to honor one of the greatest skaters of all time.