In a Winter Olympics that witnessed many new beginnings and outstanding firsts, people continued to be surprised when figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu stepped out onto the ice on Saturday, Feb. 17 and made yet another record into the history book of the Winter Olympic Games.
Established in Chamonix, France in 1924, the Winter Olympic Games have gone through many ups and downs in its the 94 years to finally present the world with a remarkable Olympics filled with many milestones and emotions.
Originally called International Winter Sports Week, the first Winter Olympics only had 16 participating nations and 258 participating athletes, only a fraction of the total 92 nations and 2,916 athletes participating in this year’s games.
The very first gold medal was awarded to Charles Jewtraw, an American speed skater in the men’s 500 meters. It wasn’t until the 1972 Winter Olympics in Sapporo that Yukio Kasaya brought Japan its first gold medal in Ski jumping. Hanyu’s victory brings Japan’s total gold winnings to 12 so far.
Yuzuru Hanyu, the 23-year–old representative of Japan in the men’s singles figure skating, won a gold medal with a record-shattering score of 317.85 (111.68 for the short program and 206.17 for the free skate).
While this is his first gold medal (he also bore gold in the previous Winter Olympics), this particular one holds particular significance. Not only is it Japan’s first time reaching the top at the PyeongChang games, it’s the Winter Olympic’s 1,000th gold medal to be awarded.
Born on Dec. 7, 1994, in Sendai, Japan, Hanyu demonstrated his passion and talent for figuring skating at the early age of 4, following in the footsteps of his older sister.
Before long, Hanyu was taking part in figure skating competitions and earning his first achievements in the sport with a gold in the 2004 Japan Novice Championships category B (the lower of the two categories in at the novice level) and a bronze in the 2006 Japan Novice Championships category A.
These early accomplishments set the foundation for decorated careers with both domestic and international recognition. In 2014, at the age of 18, Hanyu represented Japan’s figure skating team in the Sochi Winter Olympics.
He broke his own world record in the men’s short program individual event by scoring 101.45 points, making history as the first skater to score over 100 points in the short program. His score of 178.64 points in the free skating won him his first gold medal, which was also the first gold for Japan’s male figure skating team and the only gold for the country that year.
The 2018 Winter Olympic Games marks the peak of Hanyu’s career as a figure skating athlete despite many obstacles in the initial preparation. As crazy as it seems now after Hanyu has won at the PyeongChang games, there were questions on whether he would even be able to compete in this year’s Games due to physical injury, much less taking home a gold medal for it.
On Nov. 10, 2017, Hanyu suffered a severe ankle injury, sidelining him until January with no chance of practicing until a few weeks before the Games began. At that time, performing a quadruple jump was out of the question.
“We told him we’ll go for the double, but not try to break any records. You have to pick your battles,” Orser, Hanyu’s coach, told The Associated Press. “You trust your training.”
“I just had to do what I could do,” Hanyu said, “My injuries were more severe than I thought and I could not practice as much as I wanted to.”
Both the coach and the skater were on edge about how things would pan out in the Games in South Korea after the injury, but as we know now, there was no reason to worry. Hanyu overcame the hurdle and stayed strong through his performance enough to land him a win.
Other than the reality that his name will be written down in history next to a gold medal, the figure skater also attracted public eyes with his little incident with the Winnie the Pooh plush toy. Yes, the plump yellow bear that wears a red shirt and eats way too much honey.
After its first appearance beside Hanyu back in 2010, the beloved cartoon character quickly became Hanyu’s trademark and his good luck charm, securing a seat on the sidelines while Hanyu skates and keeping Hanyu’s coach company at competitions. It’s soon become clear that the doll isn’t going away at the Game this year as well.
“You go backstage, and there are bags and bags and bags,” Orser said in 2016 on how many dolls fans throw on the ice.
Olympic rules declare that no mascots are allowed by the rink, but that doesn’t keep fans from providing them. After his immaculate performance this past weekend, one can assume that there are once again bags and bags of the dolls coming his way.
But what does Hanyu do with all these Winnie the Pooh dolls? That’s the best part. Hanyu will collect and donate them to locate charities near wherever he’s skating.
While there is no doubt that the fans love him, it’s clear that they aren’t the only ones that have high hopes in the Olympic gold medalist.
Often regarded as one of, if not the greatest figure skaters in history, Hanyu has broken world records a dozen times and holds several himself, such as the first Asian figure skater competing in men’s single to win the Olympic gold, tying with Dick Burton for the youngest male skater to win the Olympic title (19 years old at the time of winning) and the first skater in history to successfully land a quadruple loop in competition.
It seems that the 1000th gold medal could not have been awarded to anyone better qualified than Hanyu himself. “This is the best day of my skating life,” Hanyu said after it’s announced that he had won the gold. “My tears were from my heart. I can find one word and that is ‘happy.”
With all those achievements at such a young age again all the obstacles, Hanyu’s future career appears to be more than just promising. It is one that leaves audiences yearning for more and more of his appearance on the rink and his record-shattering performance.