With all the hubbub about the world figure skating championships to come next week, you might be wondering: “So where’s Yuzu?”
Well, the lithe, mosquito-waisted Olympic and world champion, Yuzuru Hanyu, has spent a great part of the season at home in Japan – not Canada where he has trained for his biggest triumphs – and is preparing for the world championships in Shanghai, China, in an extremely unusual way: by correspondence with coach Brian Orser.
“I have not seen him at all,” said Orser the other day at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club, adorned with banners cheering on European champ Javier Fernandez and new Canadian champion Nam Nguyen who train there. On Thursday, the club is staging a little world championship sendoff for its favourite sons – sans Hanyu.
“Yuzu has been faced with so many challenges this season,” Orser said. “His comfort zone is in Japan when he’s recovering from something.”
And he’s had much to recover from over the past seven months or so. It’s been an annus horribilis, as Her Majesty, Queen Elizabeth has been known to say about the rocky roads that can assail a person’s psyche.
First a back injury caused his withdrawal from Finlandia Trophy. Then he collided with Chinese skater Han Yan during the warmup for the free skate at Cup of China last November. He skated with a bandage on his head, fell five times and stayed in Japan for recovery.
With the NHK just two weeks away, Hanyu remained in Japan. He started feeling intermittent pains in his abdomen, which seemed a mystery. But he completely triumphed in the Grand Prix Final, for an astounding 288.16-point win, 34.26 points more than his closest challenger, Javier Fernandez.
Next up? The Japanese championships, which he won by more than 30 points. Obviously, he did it with some pain. He was already scheduled for surgery a few days later to repair a urachal remnant, attached to his bladder. In other words, he suffered from a rare infliction, in which the fibrous remnant from his umbilical cord failed to dissolve as he became an adult. Orser said Hanyu developed a cyst that became infected and had to be exised.
Fortunately, doctors did it by arthroscopic surgery, Orser said. “They didn’t have to cut any muscle, but they did have to cut the fascia.”
Although the hospital stay was expected to be two weeks with another four weeks away from the ice, Hanyu actually was laid up and off the ice for five weeks. Orser thinks Hanyu remained in hospital for most of that time. “I know that he has some allergies to a lot of medications, so he has to be careful about that,” he said.
The black clouds never parted. Soon after Hanyu returned to the ice, he sprained an ankle, perhaps because he began trying too much too soon. “Of course, it would be typical for him to want to get going and do everything right away,” Orser said. Coming back to Toronto to train didn’t seem to be an option.
None of this has put Orser in an ideal situation to prepare Hanyu to defend his world title next week. Orser says he hears from Hanyu by email every day.
”I’m giving him some things to think about and do on every session, and what kind of run-throughs to do,” Orser said. “I think at this stage, it’s just refreshing to have a little bit of instruction, rather than going out and wondering what you should do and how you feel. This way, you have a bit of a plan and you follow it.”
Currently, Hanyu is training by himself in Japan. “It’s a little bit of a challenge,” he said. “He says he’s skating well and he’s doing his run-throughs, so that’s all I can ask for. I guess when I get there, I’ll see.”
Right now, Hanyu reports that his quad Salchow and his quad toe loop are just fine. Earlier in the season, he seemed to struggle with a triple Lutz. “We’ve discussed that through emails and he says it seems to be fine now,” Orser said.
Hanyu is relying on some video files on his iPad that remind him about the technique of jumps. He has a Lutz file. And a Salchow file. And a loop file. The only thing that worries Orser is the difficulty of finding motivation when skating by oneself. “But he’s pretty driven and I think he’s able to manage it,” Orser said. “I think he would prefer to be out there skating with Javi every day.”
Hanyu tells Orser he misses the club and “he misses us.” But the travel from Japan to Toronto is hard and strength-sapping. And the way it is now, Hanyu faces a one-hour flight to Shanghai in the same time zone, while Orser and the rest of his boys will be dragging their heels from the opposite side of the world. No matter, says Orser. They will arrive in enough time to have three good training days before the event starts.
At any rate, Orser feels he and Hanyu are back on track. He wants to cut Hanyu a lot of slack this year because it’s a post-Olympic year, he’s the Olympic champion, his life has changed and he has so many demands and responsibilities. “Hopefully we’ll get back on track for next season,” said the coach.
He feels his star pupil is feeling strong and that he’ll be ready when the trumpet sounds next week. Hanyu has a way of rising to the call, of battling magnificently. He’s done it twice during this terrible year.