Imagine if you will, 127 million eyes glued on you performing during the highest-pressure moment of your life.
In America, the Olympics offer us an intense sense of pride in our team, to the point of myopia towards the monumental status certain athletes have in their home countries. But you can always count on at least one international athlete to break through during every Games. Enter Yuzuru Hanyu.
Hanyu, a two-time figure skating world champion and four-time Grand Prix Final champion, is debatably the biggest athlete in Japan. While popularity of the sport may be waning to a certain extent in the West, it’s gaining steam in Japan, boosted by adoring and engaged female fans. Think of Hanyu as Japan’s LeBron James, with a little bit of Ryan Gosling thrown in for good measure.
The 23 year-old’s appeal is apparent to anyone who watches him skate, but his demeanor is focused to win over the Japanese people: Hanyu possesses an elegance atypical of more masculine and athletic-focused male figure skaters -- it’s a grace and artistry prized with his home audience.
It’s also apparent among judges. Hanyu is the defending champion, having taken the gold medal at Sochi in 2014 after winning both the short and long programs. With his short program win Thursday (United States time), he’s on pace to cement himself as the GOAT.
And those 127 million eyes? When Hanyu skated for the gold at Sochi it was estimated that 31 million people -- a quarter of Japan’s population -- were watching. And that was when it was airing at 4 a.m. It’s not out of the realm of possibility that his free skate performance could be viewed by double that.
So, what is it the Japanese see in Yuzuru Hanyu? And what do you need to know to love him too?