Elusive quad axel extinguished dream of 3rd gold

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuzuru Hanyu reacts after his performance in the men’s free skate at the Beijing Olympics on Thursday.

Yuzuru Hanyu’s dream of winning gold in the men’s figure skating at three consecutive Olympics ended when he finished in fourth place at his third Olympics on Thursday.

“I think I’ve made a real effort. I’ve done everything I could think of,” he said, with a slight sense of ease.

After the Pyeongchang Games, he spent four years working on a quadruple axel, a jump with 4½ rotations that no skater has successfully completed in competition.

It was to be a journey full of personal conflict and struggle.

Asked whether he would continue attempting the jump, Hanyu said: “I’ll have to think about it. I’ve just given it my all.”

When leaving the rink after his free program, the 27-year-old defending champion put his hands on the ice.

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Yuzuru Hanyu attempts a quadruple axel in the men’s free skate at the Beijing Olympics on Thursday.

“The result wasn’t good, so of course I’m disappointed. But ultimately, thank you for letting me jump this far,” he said, expressing his gratitude to the rink.

When Hanyu was an elementary school student, he was told that the axel, the only jump in which skaters take off facing forward, is “the king of jumps” in figure skating.

The words were those of his mentor Shoichiro Tsuzuki, who coached Hanyu from the second grade of elementary school through his high school years.

Tsuzuki, 84, taught Hanyu the basics of skating, repeatedly encouraging him to “jump a quad axel one day.”

He said Hanyu told him that he wanted to make his “teacher’s words a reality” immediately after winning his second gold medal at the Pyeongchang Games.

Hanyu faced many stumbling blocks in his bid to achieve that goal.

The coronavirus pandemic forced the star skater to leave his base in Canada and return to Japan, where he trained mostly without a coach.

Despite going through what he has described as a “long period of darkness,” he remained positive because of his devotion to successfully completing the jump.

Hanyu once described practicing the quad axel as “like jumping to his death.”

He hit the ice over and over again, risking injury, but driving him on was a fear that his physical ability would soon start declining because of his age.

The more he practiced, the more impatient he became, and the more he wore himself out physically.

Hanyu initially thought he would be able to execute the jump the year after the Pyeongchang Olympics.

There were times when he almost gave up, asking himself, “If I can’t do it after all of this effort, why should I keep trying?” The thought that he would never be satisfied if he failed, kept him going.

In a bid to jump a quad axel, Hanyu focused on every possible detail down to the millimeter.

He had a chance to return to Canada, but he thought continuing his pursuit alone would be a shortcut to success.

The quad axel that he attempted Thursday was the accumulation of his efforts over the past four years.

Despite this being the first Winter Games where he has failed to win a medal, Hanyu held his head high after the event. “For this Olympics, I’ve given everything I’ve got,” he said.