Hanyu Yuzuru to retire from competitive skating Hanyu Yuzuru to retire from competitive skating
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Hanyu Yuzuru to retire from competitive skating

    NHK World
    Correspondent
    Japanese figure skater Hanyu Yuzuru shocked his legion of fans this week by announcing his retirement from competition and detailing plans to skate as a professional instead. The "Ice Prince," as he is sometimes called in Japan, made the revelation at a press conference on Tuesday.

    The Japanese figure-skating icon won two straight Olympic golds, at the 2014 Sochi and 2018 Pyeongchang Games. After missing out on a third consecutive medal at the 2022 Beijing Games in February, Hanyu left it unclear whether he would continue to compete.

    Going pro

    Arriving at the press conference clad in a suit and tie, the 27-year-old bowed deeply to the assembled journalists and opened with an expression of gratitude. He told reporters, "I'd like to express deep gratitude to everyone who has supported me. There is so much on my mind."

    Then came the surprise announcement. "I have decided to continue skating as a professional athlete," he declared. "I will no longer compete. In terms of results, I've achieved everything I could achieve."

    The decision to go pro, Hanyu explained, followed a period of deep soul-searching. "After the Beijing Olympics I took some time off to let my injured ankle heal," he said. "I thought through many things, and felt I no longer needed to perform in the same arena, while also being determined to get better and stronger."

    The star revealed that he almost walked away from competitive skating much sooner. "I was ready to retire after the Pyeongchang Games," he said, "although I dislike the word 'retire.' Instead, I managed to maintain my motivation until the Beijing Games by just focusing on getting the reuslts."

    When he finally decided to quit competitive skating, he kept the decision close to his chest. "While I wanted to tell those dear to me, face to face about my decision, I wasn't able to," he said.

    Quest for quadruple axel continues

    Hanyu also spoke about his attempt to become the first figure skater to pull off a four-and-a-half-revolution jump. "I want to continue pursuing this goal so that I can succeed in front of my fans," he said. "I am determined to go on trying to reach new levels, including the quad-axel, and fulfill my vision of the ideal skater."

    Hanyu attempting a jump no one has ever successfully landed in competition, the quadruple axel, in his free-skating program at the Beijing Olympics.

    Although he fell short at the Beijing Olympics, Hanyu described it as "a great experience. I didn't feel any pain after an injection of pain killers, so I had nothing to fear and was able to give it my all." He went on to say, "I am still practicing the quadruple axel. Now that I have more knowledge, I can see what needs to be done to achieve it," he said. "In exhibition performances, I learn something new every day. I'm very excited about the potential for becoming even better in the future. While I was struggling to grow during the Beijing Games, I feel I am growing now, so please don't count me out.

    "I want to attain new heights as a competitor, as a professional, and as an athlete -- although the lines between these three categories are rather ambiguous. My feelings haven't changed -- I want to continue aiming for my dream. I take my role as an athlete seriously and I want to succeed at the quad-axel and land it for everyone to see."

    Hanyu Yuzuru banks on quad axel to revive gold hopes at Beijing

    Olympics made it all worthwhile

    After a glittering run at the highest level of competitive figure-skating, Hanyu is walking away a satisfied man. "I pursued my dream and part of this was getting to the Olympics," he said. "By succeeding at the Olympics I feel that I have secured a sort of legacy that is both proof of my past efforts and the basis of my efforts from here on in.

    "I'm sure I won't miss the nervousness I felt during competitions. As a professional, I will try to perform in such a way as to give fans the sense that everything is on the line so they will continue to offer their support."

    Living up to expectations

    Living in the public eye and carrying the expectations of fans all over the world hasn't been easy, Hanyu said. "Being Hanyu Yuzuru is a burden, and it's a burden I've felt for a long time," he said. "I've always tried to live up to people's expectations of me, though, and I will continue to do my best to fulfill these expectations.

    "I've never been satisfied with the way things are and I have always wanted to improve," he said. "This feeling of constantly wanting to improve is joyful and has enabled me to continue skating. Skating is my life. It's not about setting records or scoring the most points -- I have just tried to persevere with the aim of achieving a little bit more all the time."

    The press conference lasted about one hour.

    Future is an open book

    Fans eager to know what their favorite figure skater is planning next will have to be patient. "While there are plans in progress, I'm not yet ready to provide details," Hanyu said. "I think it will be possible to appeal to modern audiences with new ways of presenting figure skating." He went on to say, "I hope to draw even people who don't normally come out to watch skating.

    "After I competed in the Pyeongchang Games at the age of 23, I felt I had developed significantly. I now see what kind of effort and thought process is necessary, and I feel I am skating at my best now. While I don't know if I'll still be skating in my 30s or 40s, I'm really excited that age limits for this sport may disappear in the future.

    "I am very lucky to be able to have people watch my performances, to have a place to express myself and have people pay attention. I think I will be able to add more facets to my performance in the future and I hope that I will be able to inspire people."

    The art of being Hanyu Yuzuru

    Hanyu wrapped up the press conference with another outpouring of gratitude. "Thank you again for your continued support. I want to say this in the present tense because I will continue persevering not only so you can enjoy my performances, but to be able to receive your support. I will put my all into my skating and pursue results. I ask for your continued support. Thank you for your attention and thanks to all those who have participated in the press conference."

    Following the press conference, Hanyu greeted fans during a photo shoot.

    Reaction from fellow sporting figures

    Sporting figures who reacted to Hanyu Yuzuru's announcement were effusive in their praise.

    Major League baseball star Ohtani Shohei, who is the same age as Hanyu, said he was "stunned" by the news. "He's been a competitive athlete for a very long time. We're the same age, and I think he will continue to stay active -- I wish him the best."

    Evgeni Plushenko, the men's singles figure-skating gold medalist at the 2006 Torino Olympics, wrote on social media, "I appreciate everything what he has done for Figure Skating. I would like to wish him all the best in his professional career and I hope he will make people in the world happy with this show appearances. Good luck for your future my friend Yuzuru san."

    Japanese figure skater Uno Shoma said, "I have always been chasing Yuzuru and can't imagine how things will be at future competitions, not seeing him there as a rival. He has led the field in figure skating, and I'm sure he will continue to lead even after turning professional. No one can do what he has done -- to stay at the forefront of achievement in skating for so many years. He has been an inspiration to me and I will do my best to pass on his legacy to the next generation. Thank you for all you have done."

    Uno Shoma, Hanyu Yuzuru, and Kagiyama Yuma won medals in All Japan Figure Skating Championships 2021.

    Kagiyama Yuma, who took silver in the men's figure-skating singles at the Beijing Olympics, also described Hanyu as an inspiration. "I wanted to become like Hanyu in his approach to skating," he said, "and in how he continued to challenge himself during competitions."

    On Kagiyama's debut in the men's senior division following the Japan figure skating championships, he commented on the encouragement he received from Hanyu. "When I was unable to speak clearly about my goals at a press conference, Hanyu said to me, 'You just have to be yourself, since perseverance is your strength.' Those words changed me, and in interviews after that, I was able to speak about my goals with confidence."

    Evgenia Medvedeva, women's singles figure-skating silver medalist at the Pyeongchang Games, wrote on her Instagram account, "Congratulations on your retirement, a true legend."

    Alina Zagitova, women's singles gold medalist at the Pyeongchang Games, posted a photo of herself with Hanyu on her Instagram account, with a message saying, "Good luck, Legend," in Japanese.