By Shigemi Sato (AFP) – Nov 25, 2012
RIFU, Japan — A couple of morning earth tremors and two pratfalls on the ice failed to stop 17-year-old Yuzuru Hanyu from gliding to a figure skating Grand Prix victory in his tsunami-hit home town.
Asserting his place among Japanese figure skaters aiming for Winter Olympic glory 15 months away, he stroked the ice at the end of his performance at the arena -- used as a temporary mortuary after last year's quake-tsunami disaster.
"I talked my heart out when I was greeted by my local fans," the high school student said after lifting the NHK Trophy, the season's sixth and last ISU Grand Prix event, on Saturday.
"I also talked to the rink, saying 'I thank you very much'."
Hanyu, the 2010 world junior champion, broke his own world short-programme record on Friday and topped Saturday's free skate to seal his second senior Grand Prix title following his triumph at the Cup of Russia a year ago.
Two moderate tremors rattled the region Saturday morning.
Hours later at the rink, Hanyu fell when executing a triple jump and a change-foot spin, after losing his stamina in nailing two quadruple jumps and a series of triples and doubles in the four-minute free programme.
He still beat into second spot 2010 world champion and compatriot Daisuke Takahashi, Japan's only male Olympic medallist who won the bronze in 2010.
"The morning earthquakes brought back bad memories to me somewhat but I was able to pull through. I'm so glad that I could end up with a smile on my face before my fans and everyone in this region," Hanyu said.
"He has given us a lot of hope, although this area has not recovered much," said 70-year-old housewife Kazuko Yamamoto, who came with her daughter and grand-daugher to the arena on the outskirts of Sendai.
On March 11 the killer quake damaged both Hanyu's home and the skating rink in Sendai where he was practising at the time. The subsequent tsunami ravaged the city's shoreline.
He spent several days in a shelter and then travelled to some 60 charity ice shows while trying to find alternative training venues.
After his first GP victory at the Cup of Russia, Hanyu lifted the bronze in his senior world championship debut in Nice in March.
The slender teen, 1.71 metres (5 feet, 6 inches) tall and weighing 53 kg (117 pounds), admits he needs to build up his stamina and concentration.
At the season-opening Skate American GP, he collected a record 95.07 in the short programme but cracked under pressure to fall three times in the free skate and finished second overall behind compatriot Takahiko Kozuka.
At the NHK Trophy, he improved his world record to 95.32 points.
"I must gain greater concentration and use 120 percent of my power in training," said Hanyu, who has been coached by Brian Orser for five months in Toronto where he lives with his mother.
Orser, who coached South Korea's Kim Yu-Na to her Olympic women's gold, said Hanyu put on "two strong programmes" at the NHK Trophy.
"It was a big step forward," the Canadian said, adding Hanyu should build up consistency and programme himself to win by "leaving nothing to chance".
Hanyu's sights are set on the 2014 Olympics at Sochi in Russia, but he sees fierce competition for a place in the Olympic squad. A maximum three Olympic men's figure skating spots will be alloted to Japan.
He is the fourth Japanese to win a GP this year after Kozuka, Tatsuki Machida (Cup of China) and Takahito Mura (Trophee Eric Bompard in Paris).
Hanyu has qualified with three other Japanese -- Kozuka, Machida and Takahashi -- as well as world champion Patrick Chan of Canada and Spain's Javier Fernandez -- for the Grand Prix Final in Sochi for the top six finishers.
"I enjoy battling against quite a depth of rivals at home," he said.
When the final's short programme is staged on December 7, Hanyu will turn 18.
"I have scored 95 points and I will try hard to continue doing more 'fluke' performances," he joked. "I hope it will be a good birthday."
Copyright © 2013 AFP. All rights reserved. More »