The evolution of Yuzuru Hanyu: How one of the best ever keeps developing

Japanese figure skater Yuzura Hanyu had nothing to gain by competing at the Autumn Classic International in Oakville, Ont. It was only an opportunity to showcase and practise his new program. In doing so, his evolution as a skater was evident once again.

Japanese figure skater debuts new, bar-raising routine in victory at Autumn Classic International

Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan performs his free skate in the men's competition at the 2018 Skate Canada Autumn Classic International event in Oakville, Ont. on Saturday. (Geoff Robins/AFP/Getty Images)

Eleven-hundred spectators bought tickets to watch some of figure skating's superstars start their competitive season at the Autumn Classic International competition hosted in Oakville, Ont.

Some of these fans were even camped out overnight in the arena parking lot, in order to be first in line for a prime seat to catch a glimpse of their skating hero Yuzuru Hanyu. A crowd of adoring fans, many of whom had travelled from Japan, were anxious to see the debut of Hanyu's two new programs.

I wondered what would drive a two-time and defending Olympic champion to continue? The truth of the matter is that Hanyu isn't finished with the sport and seemingly has things left to share. His trick this season had to be figuring out how to evolve as an athlete and artist and to persist in breaking new ground.

Grabbing from the past

Interestingly, moving forward for Hanyu includes looking back at the generation that came before him. For this season, each program is a tribute of sorts to a couple of Hanyu's skating idols — Johnny Weir in the short program and Evgeny Plushenko in the free.

The short program took place on Friday with Hanyu the non-disputed star of the men's event. The goal for all the skaters in these early season competitions is to get some mileage on the programs and to test if they reach the maximum in their score.

There is nothing for which Hanyu could qualify by competing; it was simply an opportunity to compete.

Hanyu's winning short program was beautiful, but even by his own admission, not perfect. For me, I wanted to see if Hanyu could still hold my interest. That he did.

There is something about this man's skating that commands not only respect but your full attention. No tweeting, no texting, no chatting — just spellbound observation.

'Continues to raise the bar'

World 2003 ice dance champion Shae-Lynn Bourne was called on again to choreograph for Hanyu. It was her work on Hanyu's free program that helped him clinch his second Olympic title in Pyeongchang this past February.

"Yuzuru continues to raise the bar in men's figure skating. Because of what he does, the rest of the men do what they do. He's bringing light and energy to the sport in a positive way," said Bourne.

Not to mention fans. Lots and lots of fans.

Hanyu's nod to Olympic and world champion Plushenko in the free program is in using the same music from Plushenko's 2003-04 season.

"In feeling the spirit of the music," said Bourne, "Plushenko did his program as a tribute to Nijinsky, the ballet dancer."

Bourne's take on the music was very different.

In Bourne's mind, the music sounded epic and on the suggestion of her husband Bohdan Turok, she looked to Japanese mythology for a storyline. She was inspired by Kojiki, the Japanese Account of Ancient Matters, which chronicles the mythical creation of Japan.

She could envision that creation and wanted to illuminate it through movement on the ice. Although she won't speak for how Hanyu interprets the music, she offers theirs was a rich collaboration in creating the movement and the program's framework.

"I want the audience to feel 'change,'" Bourne said. "I want people to see something different in his [Hanyu's] skating. I want them to see his package of skills as a skater. He has musicality that is beautiful. He feels it."

As Hanyu skated, we did too.

Although there were some technical errors in Hanyu's free program, he had created enough of a buffer with his lead in the short program to stay in first place overall. As one of the best ever, I am not worried in the short term about Hanyu's ability to stay competitive.

Hanyu's program component were the highest marks in the event by more than six points. This is the area of skating where legends and legendary programs are made. Again.


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