Japanese ‘ice prince’ Yuzuru Hanyu pursues Quad Axel in bid to cement his Olympic legacy

  • Japan’s biggest hope for the Beijing Games is two-time gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu.
  • Nicknamed the “Ice Prince” of Japan by his fans, Hanyu is aiming for a quadruple Axel, which has never been landed in competition.
  • He is expected to attempt the jump on Thursday during his free skate program.

At a nondescript shrine in southern Japan’s Hyogo province, 29-year-old Takada Chie closed his eyes and prayed for Japan’s ice prince, figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu.

Takada, who works in marketing, made the 326-mile pilgrimage from his home in Tokyo to Mikage, Kobe City, to seek the blessings of Yuzuruha Shrine. It was her second visit to the shrine, which has become something of a hot spot among the figure skater’s superfans. Indeed, while the shrine is dedicated to Kumano-okami, a mythological three-legged crow, his name shares several syllables with that of Hanyu.

When Hanyu was injured in 2018, thousands flocked to the shrine to leave wooden votive tablets in support of the athlete. Hanyu is known to have visited the shrine himself to pray for victory before competitions.

“I also came here before Pyeongchang to ask for blessings before skating,” Takada told Insider, referring to the venue for the 2018 Winter Olympics. She’s been a die-hard Hanyu fan since the Sochi Olympics in 2014, where the 19-year-old won his first gold medal.

Eight years later, Hanyu, now 27, carries on his shoulders the weight of Japan’s hopes of a gold medal in men’s figure skating. If he wins on February 10, he will cement his legacy in Olympic history and become the only other man since Swede Gillis Grafström’s record breaking 1928 win to win three successive Olympic gold medals in men’s figure skating.

“When you put on the Japan jersey, you have to win,” Hanyu said after winning the Japanese national championships in December. “The Olympics is not a recital. It’s a place to win.”

Hanyu, however, enters the Games with a competitive record plagued by injuries near the end of his career. He won his second consecutive gold medal in Pyeongchang in 2018, although he entered the competition recovering from an ankle ligament injury. In 2021, another leg injury prevents him from competing from April to November.

Also standing in Hanyu’s path is American skater Nathan Chen, who has outclassed Hanyu the last three times they have competed one-on-one.

“I’m honored to be alive at the same time as him,” Chen said this week, calling Hanyu an inspiration. “It’s pretty crazy what he does. It’s been a really great adventure and journey for me to have someone like him to share ice cream with.”

While Chen could be a formidable opponent, Hanyu looks to tip the scales in his favor with a quadruple Axel, a jump that has never been done before in any competetion.

Hanyu described the arduous three-year journey to attempt the risky jump – which would require him to spin four and a half times in the air before landing – as “walking in darkness”.

“I trained myself to think that I could die of a concussion if I fell and hit my head on the ice,” he told Japanese outlet Mainichi Shimbun.

In December, he nearly landed it at the Japanese Nationals – landing on two feet instead of one – and is expected to try again at the Beijing Games.

Hanyu is expected to skate at Camille Saint-Saëns’ Rondo Capriccioso for his short program on Tuesday. He will then attempt the quad Axel during his free program on Thursday on “Heaven and Earth”, a piece by Japanese composer Isao Tomita.

“Of course, I’m aiming for gold, but as things stand, I know I’m not in a position to win,” Hanyu told the Japan Times after the Japanese national championships. “Of course, I could forget the quad and use other means to try to win gold, but the main reason I chose to compete in Beijing is that I want to get the quad.

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