Japan’s two-time Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu retired from competition on Tuesday after struggling with injuries at this year’s Beijing Games.
It brings down the curtain on a glittering career that has seen the elegant skater become a national icon who is trailed around the world by adoring fans.
It follows a string of injuries, including at February’s Games, where the 27-year-old “Ice Prince” was dethroned as Olympic champion by rival Nathan Chen of the United States, with Hanyu finishing a disappointing fourth in Beijing.
Wearing a dark suit and bowing deeply as he took to the stage, Hanyu told a packed press conference in Tokyo that he was finished as a competitive athlete.
“I’ll no longer be compared with other skaters as a competitor,” Hanyu said, saying he will concentrate on skating in exhibition shows for his fans.
“I have no sadness. I want to continue to do my best.”
Hanyu made clear his discomfort with the idea of being considered retired.
“I don’t like using the word ‘retire’,” he said.
“Ice shows tend to be considered something elegant and fun, but I want to remain more of an athlete…. I want people to see me as I continue to fight.”
With his graceful skating style and delicate, boyish looks, Hanyu is an icon for his “Fanyu” supporters, who shower the ice with Winnie the Pooh toys after his routines.
He won his first Olympic singles title at the 2014 Sochi Games and then became the first man in 66 years to defend his crown four years later in Pyeongchang.
He also won the world championships in 2014 and 2017 but he has been dogged by injury in recent years, including an ankle ligament problem that he had to overcome to win his second Olympic gold.
‘Dreams and goals’
The same ankle forced him to miss the 2021 Grand Prix season, but he made a successful return at last year’s Japanese national championships.
It was there that he attempted to become the first skater to land a quadruple axel jump, which was expected to be his secret weapon at the Beijing Games.
But instead, he tumbled twice and said afterwards: “It feels like everything has gone wrong this time around.”
Hanyu said Tuesday he had considered ending his competitive career after Pyeongchang in 2018, but decided instead to continue to fight for his goal of the quadruple axel.
“As far as competitions go, as far as their results, I think I have been able to take all the things I wanted to take. I think I have grown in such a way that I don’t seek that kind of evaluation anymore,” he said.
The elusive quadruple axel remains on his mind, he admitted, and the skating sensation said he would “work harder” so he could one day “land it successfully in front of everyone”.
“What I want is to remain someone who continues to work hard toward dreams and goals,” he said.
Hanyu is a national hero in Japan, where he became the youngest recipient of his country’s prestigious People’s Honour Award in 2018, and his every move is headline news.
But he still remains something of an enigma despite the huge attention, rarely granting interviews and having no social media presence.
His fans spend fortunes watching him compete and even carve sculptures of the rake-thin star, who is known as “Yuzu” to his devotees.
Hanyu began skating as a child in his native Sendai, in Japan’s northeast. When the massive earthquake and tsunami hit the region in 2011, he was practising on the ice and was forced to flee the rink on his skates.