Yuzuru Hanyu is figure skating's rock star
Even practices are must-see moments in Olympic champion's home country
So many thoughts flood through my brain whenever I attend a skating event: memories from childhood, from a long coaching career, and from behind the microphone.
At this stage in my life, I have been blessed by many and sometimes surprising friendships. Skating is at the root of all of them and many of the people for whom I have affection come from figure skating. This is home for me.
It is a precarious thing to try and find the balance between speaking the truth and making sure that how I present a skating situation is fair, truthful and unbiased. I am always striving to express myself in such a way that the skating moms and dads out there won't come looking for me. It's tricky.
Like the thousands of other skating fans here in Saitama, Japan taking in the figure skating world championships, I was amazed at watching two-time Olympic gold medallist Yuzuru Hanyu in practice. On my side of the rink in the press seats, there was room, albeit behind as many photographers as there are spaces. On the other side of the rink, spectators jockeyed for position and put their names on the practice rink's unreserved seats.
It is the same story time and time again. If Hanyu is competing somewhere, he will have fans camped out the night before ready to be first in the building. The city of Saitama has been no exception.
I certainly have seen my fair share of great skaters over the course of my life and Hanyu ranks right up at the top with the best of them. Skating by me with all of the speed in the world, he rattled off a quad without any effort. Hanyu makes it look easy. The crowd burst into applause. So focused on the task at hand, Hanyu seemed unaware of the attention surrounding him.
Simply put, Hanyu is treated like a rock star in his homeland.
The whirr of the photographers' shutters can be heard over the music — there are so many of them. Once Hanyu leaves the ice, the majority of the photographers do too. Even if you aren't a figure skating fan, the intensity of the practice is an event.
I have been watching Hanyu for a long time and have had the chance to chat with him on many occasions. There is a contrasting sweetness and innocence backstage in conversation to the "killer" who comes out to skate. I have often said, you can see it in Hanyu's eyes when he takes his opening position.
It's as if it's a choice he makes in declaring, "this one's mine."
From a distance in a hallway Wednesday afternoon, I saw a large group of people walking towards me. A few people back from the front, a lanky figure started waving at me and calling my name, "Pj! Pj! Hi, Pj!" As I got closer, I realized it was Hanyu. He dropped his head onto my shoulder for a hug and said, "It's nice to see you," as the group stopped and waited for our exchange to finish. It was nice to see him too.
Skating is the entrée. Friendship is the result.