A sensational Olympian tries out an acrobatic move that no one has done in competition before – sounds familiar to you?
As the Tokyo 2020 Games approached, star gymnast Simone Biles was invited to perform double pike Yurchenko, but the American legend instead found hero status in another guise when she stood up for sanity, placing her before athletic success.
At the Beijing Winter Olympics, two-time Japanese figure skating gold medalist Yuzuru Hanyu will likely attempt to perform a quadruple Axel, a move no other athlete has ever achieved in anything other than training.
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So what is it and why is it so difficult to achieve? The Quadruple Axel will require the 27-year-old to complete four and a half turns in the air at astonishing speed, while trying to land a perfect landing. It’s so difficult that if Hanyu fulfills his dream of succeeding, the score he gets will surely be unbeatable for any of his rivals. High reward – but extremely high risk.
The men’s singles competition is hotly contested and it is a measure of the tightness of the rivalry that Hanyu is raising his level to a level never seen before. His battle with American Nathan Chen will likely be one of the highlights of the Games.
Hanyu tried twice to win a sixth Japanese national title at the end of December, almost completed in free practice, before his attempt to compete was called off. It was still enough to beat Shoma Uno, the Pyeongchang 2018 silver medalist.
“The Olympics are not a recital. It’s a place you have to win,” Hanyu said after his victory, as he immediately turned his attention to the Games.
“For this reason, I will be very determined. I hope to be able to prepare a program that will see a quad axel gain an additional score of execution points.”
For casual figure skating fans, Hanyu is perhaps best known for the Winnie the Pooh soft toys that are thrown around the rink after his routine. AA’s character Milne (but in Disney form, if we’re pedantic) has followed him throughout his career, and although IOC rules don’t allow him to be in his “corner” in Beijing, there is certainly has a representation somewhere.
Hanyu is already a history maker, having become the first man since 1952 to successfully defend a singles title when he won gold in Pyeongchang. But his path to Beijing was not easy.
In three of the past five seasons, the skater many consider the best of all time has missed big chunks with a lingering right ankle injury. His last national title was his first competition in eight months.
It was the lack of consistency of regular competition that helped the extraordinary Nathan Chen win the last three world titles, including 2021, where Hanyu had to settle for bronze.
The 22-year-old American helped raise the level of the opposition and forced his already legendary Japanese rival to put his body on the line by doing something so special that it was never achieved by another athlete. – he is, after all, a skater who has seen worse, having been caught in the devastating Tohoku earthquake and tsunami in 2011.
It is for this reason that February 8 (short program) and February 10 (free program) should be noted in the diary.
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