Yuzuru Hanyu, a two-time Olympic champion and arguably the greatest male singles figure skater in history, announced his retirement on Tuesday at age 27.
“I’ll no longer be able to be compared with other competitors,” he said in a Tokyo news conference, according to a Kyodo News translation. “In terms of results, I’ve achieved the things I could achieve. I stopped wanting to be evaluated.”
Hanyu won the 2014 and 2018 Olympic titles, then placed fourth at his third Olympics and, it turns out, his last competition, in February.
After an eighth-place short program took him out of the running for gold, Hanyu attempted the first quadruple Axel in Olympic competition despite reinjuring an ankle between the two programs. He fell, and it was deemed under-rotated.
Back then, he said, “I would love to skate at the Olympic Games once again,” but that he didn’t know if Beijing would ultimately be his last Games.
“After the Beijing Olympics when I got home, I couldn’t skate because of the pain in the ankle,” he said Tuesday, according to Olympics.com. “I thought about all kinds of things then, but I felt that I don’t need to be on this stage forever.”
Hanyu reportedly said he plans to continue skating professionally in non-competitive shows.
“I carried on until Beijing in pursuit of the quad Axel, but I feel I can do it, not necessarily in competitions,” he said, according to Kyodo. “I actually feel it gives a chance for more people to witness it [in person].”
Hanyu was a precocious talent who started skating at age 4, winning the world junior title at age 15 in 2010.
The epicenter of the 2011 Tōhoku earthquake and tsunami was 80 miles from his native Sendai. He was training at the time — “I ran out of the building in my skating boots,” he said then. “I had no time to put on the blade covers, so my blades were damaged. I was terrified.” — and reportedly spent three or four days at an evacuation center before returning to his damaged family home.
In 2012, he took bronze at the world championships. In 2014, he ended the reign of Canadian Patrick Chan with gold in a flawed Sochi Olympics men’s free skate.
From there, Hanyu suffered repeated ankle injuries — plus a head-on collision at 2014 Cup of China — and defeats in every season, but he remained the king of the sport through his second gold in PyeongChang. He became the first man to repeat as Olympic singles figure skating champion since American Dick Button in 1948 and 1952.
Nathan Chen ascended in the last Olympic cycle, but always spoke with reverence when asked about Hanyu. Not quite on the scale of the Japanese megastar’s fans who camped out overnight to watch him skate at even low-level events across the world and littered the ice with Winnie-the-Pooh bears after each of his programs.
Chen may have also competed for the last time. He is expected to return to Yale and sit out at least through this season.
The top returning skaters are Japanese men who followed Hanyu — 24-year-old Shoma Uno and 19-year-old Yuma Kagiyama.
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