With the U.S. president in town and inevitable traffic snarls, it's not surprising that Yuzuru Hanyu was late for his own news conference on April 24.
The figure-skating sensation showed up 15 minutes late at the Foreign Correspondents' Club of Japan in Tokyo, but with his Gold Medal from the 2014 Winter Olympics in Sochi hanging from his neck.
"The season has ended in a great way, with three gold medals," said Hanyu, who in addition to snagging Olympic Gold is also the 2014 World Champion and the 2013-2014 Grand Prix Final champion. "But I'm still only 19. I plan to work hard for the upcoming season and be at the next Winter Olympics in South Korea four years from now."
Gold is great, he added, but its weight is symbolic.
“It’s something that I as an individual skater worked hard to achieve,” Hanyu added. “But it represents the hopes and positive thoughts of many people. I have to stand back and remember that it’s not something I did alone. Without support and cheers, no one would be able to do anything at all.”
The skater’s story is dramatic, to say the least. When the Great East Japan Earthquake struck on March 11, 2011, Hanyu was skating at a rink in his native Sendai. The shaking burst the pipes under the ice. In the months that followed, local fans went on a fund-raising drive to allow him to keep training.
Hanyu also began performing in ice shows to raise money for victims of the disaster that claimed more than 15,000 lives.
In April 2012, after winning bronze at the 2012 World Championship, Hanyu set off for Canada to be coached by Brian Orser.
“Given the conditions in Sendai, I could only skate for 45 minutes to an hour each day,” he said. In Toronto, his training schedule under Orser (who previously coached Kim Yuna and is a co-winner of an Emmy Award) was ramped to four hours each day.
“I do not believe that my style has changed, or that the training methods are so different. What has changed is how I’ve been made more aware of what I am doing in my practices and just before I step on the ice in competitions.”
The move to Canada, he said, was the key factor that got him the gold medal.
His goal of a second Olympic gold at Pyeongchang, South Korea, in 2018 will not be an easy one. At age 23, he will be a veteran competing for a place with teenage skaters who likely will be more agile, stronger and flexible than their inspiration: the immensely popular Sendai native.
“I expect my physique to undergo a change by then,” said Hanyu, who is known for his slender form and general disinterest in food. “There will be new skaters ready to take their place in the Games, but I would not call them rivals. Figure skating is not a sport where you go up against other athletes. It is all about conquering yourself and keeping control. In that sense my biggest rival is me.”
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