At Autumn Classic International on Friday, Japanese star Yuzuru Hanyu took a step beyond – in his first appearance of the Olympic season no less.
Returning to an old Chopin routine he had done during the 2015-2016 season, Hanyu, still only 22, so young and so old at the same time, became a maestro.
With every flying movement of an arm or a hand, he was in total control of a packed audience that was, mind you, dominantly Japanese, but it didn’t really matter. Everybody who was there felt it, saw it, bowed to it.
Honestly, he looked like a conductor and the orchestra was the audience. He pulled their strings and their hearts at the same time.
Hanyu did the most beautiful short program – choreographed and rechoreographed by Jeff Buttle – in the most breathtaking way, setting a world record of 112.72 points, even though he decided to leave his quad loop at home this time.
So, inscrutable Yuzuru, how can we possibly describe thee? He skated with patience that comes with confidence. He let fly a quad Salchow, landed with such soft knees, you couldn’t hear it. Judges loaded that thing up with GOE of +3, all across. Same thing with a triple Axel coming out of footwork. (He loves the triple Axel.)
And that quad toe loop – triple toe loop, done with both arms above his head (that’s new) Honestly. When he came down from the heavens on that one, his arms floated down by his sides, such a simple move, so effective. The crowd roared. And oh god, the footwork. And the spins, one of them a sit spin in which his arm and hand constantly floated, turned, and wrote “War and Peace” in a gesture.
His coach, Brian Orser, was speechless in the minutes afterward.
“For this time of year…..” he said. “There is a patience to this program that is comforting to everybody when you are watching it. It doesn’t feel awkward. You can hear a pin drop. You know when the next movement is going to happen. There is a little bit of anticipation for it. It’s really nice to be in that kind of comfort. “
Hanyu left out his quad loop – he became the first to land one in competition last season – because “he was just feeling a little bit of pain in his [right] knee,” Orser said. “It wasn’t one particular thing that made him go ouch. It just started to gradually get a little achy.”
After a little discussion at home, Hanyu decided to drop the loop for the moment, instead of pushing it. If not, he could have developed a more serious problem with his knee that would have been difficult to correct all season. They were smart. They stopped the nag. Orser said by the time he competed the short program on Friday, he actually was in no pain.
Before he was to skate, Orser and co-coach Tracy Wilson advocated the quad Salchow instead. Just think, they told him, it will be easy.
As soon as Hanyu finished the program, he came to Orser and Wilson and grinned: “That was so easy!”
Imagine, doing an easier routine and setting a world record. “It’s all about quality,” Orser said. “It’s the quality of all the elements. It’s the quality of all the skating. It’s the quality of the elements.”
Orser calls Hanyu the best spinner in the world and his step sequence is “magical” when it’s a good night. And it was a very good night.