The artistic and technical mastery of Yuzuru Hanyu – The Varsity
I started watching the Winter Olympics after the Vancouver games in 2010, and from that moment I was deeply captivated by the charms and beauty of these frozen sports. The games have become my only consolation for many barren days.
As the Beijing 2022 games wrapped up earlier this month, I couldn’t help but be nostalgic for the iconic moments we saw last month. The figure skating events mesmerized me the most, as every jump and spin of the skaters teleported me to a wonderland of art and bliss.
Among them, one skater in particular stood out to me as the supreme standard both artistically and technically – the embodiment of figure skating. Not only me, but the figure skating and Olympic communities are also indebted to Yuzuru Hanyu for the impacts and changes he has brought to the sport.
Yuzuru Hanyu, who was born in Sendai, Japan in 1994, is a reigning champion figure skater with dazzling achievements. In 2012, he began training in Toronto with 1984 and 1988 Canadian silver medalist Brian Orser. Hanyu won consecutive gold medals at the 2014 Sochi Olympics and the 2018 Pyeongchang Olympics, becoming the first man to win back-to-back gold medals since 1952. He also became the first singles skater male to win a Super Slam, having won all major international championships at senior and junior level.
I recently revisited his past Olympic performances, and each routine is a masterclass in skating. Besides his flawless technical elements, one of the most compelling aspects of Hanyu’s performance is his ability to bring out and infect the audience with the emotions of the characters he portrays.
In his debut in Sochi, he inked the entire rink with his quick wit. Dressed in a blue shirt, Hanyu immediately transports the audience to a Parisian street in his skated short program on “Parisienne Walkways” with his confident and dashing steps. Later, in his free skating, he delicately performed the emotions of “Romeo and Juliet” with excellent skills and expressions.
If Sochi was the triumph of youth for the 19-year-old, then four years later Pyeongchang has confirmed that Hanyu is indeed the Ice King. Hanyu’s free skate in Pyeongchang, “Seimei”, vigorously unveiled the story of Seimei’s growth to become a powerful man, just like Hanyu himself.
In Beijing, he further explored the philosophy behind his free skating program, “Heaven and Earth”, with connections to his own life. In a turquoise suit with embroidered sakura flowers and golden birds, he elegantly portrayed the story of a former Japanese warlord, Uesugi Kenshin, which had many parallels to Hanyu’s sports career.
Hanyu, like Uesugi, became a leader at a young age. They both went through tremendous hardships, but continued to fight and mature. Hanyu illustrated her own coming-of-age story through her Olympic performance.
It may seem like Hanyu has accomplished everything he deserves, but there have been many instances where his hard work hasn’t paid off – sometimes due to unfair targeting and underlining by the International Skating Union. (UIS). Research and previous scoring results demonstrate that often more than half of judges exhibit statistically significant nationalist biases when scoring.
Additionally, in Beijing, Hanyu attempted the quadruple axel (4A) jump – which requires 4.5 revolutions – becoming the first person to attempt one at an international event. Hanyu’s 4A at Beijing 2022 was recognized, but not certified, as he fell on landing.
No one has ever gotten a 4A in competition. The heroic and historical challenge of Hanyu advances the standard and technical difficulty of figure skating. It’s possible he could still land 4A in competition – there’s still a lot to expect from Hanyu.
Since it is considered the most difficult jump, however, the score of 4A in the ISU judges book does not reflect its true difficulty. While arguably much harder than quadruple lutz (4Lz) jumps, the 4A is only worth one point more than the 4Lz.
Considering this, 4A is a high risk jump with low rewards that ended up preventing Hanyu from getting the gold. Either way, Hanyu fans will always respect his efforts to dazzle on the ice. His way of stringing together even more difficult figures, even if he risks medals, is the very embodiment of the Olympic spirit.
Additionally, to protest the ISU scoring, Hanyu wrote her graduation thesis on how 3D capture technology, which analyzes athletes’ movements, can help figure skating judges get a fair rating. His resistance to ISU bias gives hope for fairer games and a brighter future for the field of competitive sports – and, personally, his perseverance is a constant reminder to me to keep going.
Fortunately, as Hanyu suggested, the ISU is currently working on implementing artificial intelligence and augmented reality technologies to judge figure skating, which will help determine the pre-rotation and rotation numbers of the skaters and will make scoring more accurate.
What inspires me the most about Hanyu is his devotion. He does not see figure skating as just a competitive sport, but as an art. He doesn’t add difficult jumps to his routine just to get high scores. Instead, he strives for overall balance and elegance in routines, alongside difficult and technical maneuvers, so he carefully plans difficult step sequences and jumps into his choreography by adding entries and graceful jump exits.
These choices not only increase the technical difficulties of his programs but also ground his choreography in the music, thus adding unity. We need more athletes like him – we watch competitive sports not only to see impressive skills, but also to find inspiration and explore the breadth of humanity.
As he glided across the rink in his sparkling white and pink suit and gracefully kissed the ice in his “Come, Spring” performance at the 2022 Beijing Figure Skating Gala Exhibition, Hanyu sowed the seeds of hope and high expectations for the future of figure skating – and spring has indeed arrived.