Funny how this works. Yuzuru Hanyu is considered the hot toddy of men’s figure skating. The amazingly talented champ who buzzes out quads like nobody’s business – and with ease. The Sensei of ice chips.
Yet Hanyu feels the pressure of the young guns, panting on his heels, trying to match him at his own game. There’s that kid, Nathan Chen from the United States who did four quads in his free at U.S. nationals last year. That Shoma Uno kid from Japan who is landing quad flips and who just used one to win the Japan Open over reigning world champ Javi Fernandez of Spain. That Boyang Jin kid from China who regularly does four quads in his free, one of them being the unfathomable quad Lutz. And he pledges to work on his artistry too.
Hanyu knows he has to stay ahead. Or at least work things so that he doesn’t have to play catch up. So therefore he introduced the quad loop at Autumn Classic, his season opener where he became the first man to land one in competition.
Yes, he landed one in the short program. And he landed one in the free skate at Autumn Classic. And he won the men’s event at Autumn Classic. But boy is that ambitious plan of his giving him a rough ride at this point.
Hanyu finished the free with 172.27 points, more than 47 points lower than his world record of 219.48. His total score of 260.57 is almost 70 points behind his world record total of 330.43. Why, he’s almost an entire short program behind his record!
In the men’s free on Saturday, Hanyu landed that quad loop, then a quad Salchow, delivered a high quality combination spin, then some level-four footwork that sizzled. Then things began to go awry.
His triple flip didn’t quite sing. Instead of a quad Salchow-triple toe loop, he did a double Salchow-double toe loop. The big crowd at Sportsplex gasped in disbelief.
Then he underrotated a quad toe loop and fell.
A triple Axel – triple toe loop turned into a triple-double. Not horrible.
But his big point getter, the triple Axel – single loop – triple Salchow turned into a triple, single, single loop. Oops. Points ran down the rain barrel.
Then he fell on a triple Lutz, not his favourite jump, mind.
And then to add thistles to thorns, on the way to the mixed zone, Hanyu slipped on the floor and did a pratfall. Hanyu’s skate guards were plastic and didn’t grip the footing. “So he just bit it,” Orser said. Ice wasn’t the only surface he was falling on. Unfortunately, he did it in front of the Fifth Estate. (We ink-stained wretches).
It wasn’t even his last glissade, cropper, header, or sprawl of the day. After the podium ceremony, Hanyu tried to dazzle by doing a jump with the flowers in his hand. Oops again. He fell flat and hard, but popped up quickly enough, laughing. He played the ham. What else can you do?
Yes, Hanyu was nervous before he skated. Coach Brian Orser says that’s normal.
His warmup hadn’t been great either, although Orser said that didn’t bother him a lot, either.
“But it was just sloppy,” he said. “I thought we were off to a good start with the quad loop.” Turned out the new jump was his best jump.
“My only concern or advice is we can’t get caught up with what the others are doing,” Orser said. “And that’s not where we always win anyway. We won on the other marks. That’s what we need to train and focus on. That’s what Javi [Fernandez] is doing. Javi has no intention of upping the ante.”
Doing a program with four quads always begs the question about what happens to the choreography of the rest of the routine, and all the lovely things you are supposed to do in between. In practice early Saturday, Hanyu seemed to answer that question: he hadn’t forgotten at all. He included steps and performance bits that sang. But when it came time to compete, that focus melted away. His in-betweenies were much more lackluster during his competition skate.
“He was so focused on the quad loop,” Orser said. “What we are discovering on a technical level is that the rhythm and tempo of the loop are totally different from the Salchow. We’ve talked about it. You do the loop and then you have your body wrapped around the Salchow feeling and tempo – and shift gears to execute it.
Yes, Hanyu was tired at the end. “We didn’t get a whole lot of long programs done,” Orser said.
His training has been rather sporadic because of injuries, Orser said. He was off the ice for six weeks after the world championships in March with an injury to a ligament that ran across the top of his left foot. The injury actually started at Skate Canada last year (when he had another tough day.) Of those six weeks, he was off the foot for three weeks.
Then, two weeks ago, Hanyu sprained his right ankle. “It’s just been this or that,” Orser said.
And Hanyu is so sure of what he wants that he leads the way in what he wants to do. Orser had no inkling of the costumes that Hanyu wore this week – until he saw them on the ice.
But all is not lost, Orser said. If the quad loop is the plan for the world championships in March, then they have to start now, and not January. A new difficult jump in a routine often sends the others into disarray. It takes time to sort it all out. “You have to build, which he is very capable of doing,” Orser said.
“Maybe a lot of people think he’s bitten off more than he can chew but know that when he gets better trained, and trains a little more consistently then things will kind of come together.”
Sometimes when Hanyu was skated below average, he “really digs deep,” Orser said. He was dismal at Skate Canada and lost to Patrick Chan. But by the NHK Trophy, Hanyu set world records. And then he broke them two weeks later in the Grand Prix Final. Once he finished fourth at NHK Trophy, barely squeaked into the Grand Prix Final, where he skated “lights out,” in the final.
He’s a patient man, is Orser. Sometimes he needs to be.