Beijing – Japanese superstar Yuzuru Hanyu was at his ethereal best skimming across Olympic ice for what might be the last time, as he joined the best figure skaters of the Beijing Games at the exhibition gala.
Inside the Capital Indoor Stadium, the crowd went wild — outside, fans lined up with Winnie the Pooh toys, waiting to catch a glimpse of their hero, one even in a full bear body suit.
Otherworldly in a flowing white shirt, Hanyu’s elegiac performance was a reminder of the talent that has graced three Olympics.
But at 27 years old, these Games could be his last.
“There are things I’ve yet to take a clear stand upon, and that includes my future. I will take everything into consideration in my decision about the worlds,” he said after the exhibition, referring to the upcoming world championships in Montpellier, France.
The 27-year-old missed winning a third straight Olympic gold, coming fourth in the men’s event, crucially under-rotating his short program-opening quad salchow due to a hole on the Capital Indoor Stadium rink.
In his free skate, Hanyu wrote his name into the history books by becoming the first to have a quad axel attempt officially recorded as such.
The under-rotated jump came a day after he sprained his ankle during practice. Hanyu revealed that he would have withdrawn had it not been the Olympics.
Hanyu took six doses of painkillers ahead of his emotional exhibition, and smiled nonstop afterward. It was no consolation for surrendering his Olympic throne but Hanyu said he relished, having left everything he had on the ice on the final day of the Beijing Olympics.
“I’m thankful to everyone because I’ve been able to skate (throughout my career) with everyone choosing to watch me skate, which then gives meaning to my performance,” he said after his performance to a Yumi Matsutoya tune.
“I’ve packed lots of stuff in there and can’t describe it all … (but) I wanted to do everything I could on this Olympic stage, aware of the attention it gets from everyone. It really was a happy moment.”
Hanyu said he will be taking a break after the games “to give the ankle a proper rest.”
The Miyagi Prefecture native was philosophical in assessing the meaning of his third Olympics. He admitted frustration with his misfortunes, but also found positives from being on the losing end.
“I was made to think deeply on lots of things. There were moments in my career where effort just wasn’t enough,” he said. “People might have the images of me being successful from winning in Sochi and Pyeongchang, but I have also hit rock bottom many times.”
“Having become an adult, I’ve realized that life isn’t all about being rewarded and I’m happy with this present, in which I wasn’t rewarded. Lots of unreasonable things happen but I’ll be trying my best to be as positive as I can.”
Magic on ice
After weeks of intense competition overshadowed by a doping scandal involving 15-year-old Russian prodigy Kamila Valieva, the gala was a chance to skate free of pressure — and have fun.
The rink was transformed, the austere white lights of competition giving way to multicolored projections on the ice and ceiling.
Van Gogh’s “Starry Night” formed the backdrop to Canadian ice dancers Piper Gilles and Paul Poirier as they swirled across its surface.
Madison Hubbell and Zachary Donohue of the United States, at their last Olympics together, gave an intensely emotional skate to “Once I Was Loved” as spotlights followed them across the ice.
Georgia’s Morisi Kvitelashvili set a very different tone, turning up as the genie from the Disney film “Aladdin,” complete with blue body paint, a lamp and “The Worm” dance move.
Spain’s Adrian Diaz and Olivia Smart brought the 80s back with a tiger-print and fluorescent spandex-accompanied comic routine to “Maniac” from the film “Flashdance.”
“It’s the perfect time to explore and be free,” Diaz said of the exhibition.
Freedom included music by Britney Spears, Roy Orbison, and a “Rocky”-style boxing bout from Italian pair Nicole Della Monica and Matteo Guarise, who started the performance screaming from the stands, before ripping his shirt off and skating topless.
Russian Alexandra Trusova, who had been devastated to only win silver in the women’s event, gave a defiant skate in a Wonder Woman costume, her long plaits flying as she landed her trademark difficult jumps.
Her teammate Anna Shcherbakova, who beat her to gold, also had a trick in her angel costume, which lit up halfway through her “Ave Maria” routine.
Chinese ice dancers Wang Shiyue and Liu Xinyu revved up the home crowd with patriotic rock set to vistas of the Great Wall, the audience waving their phone lights in time to the song “I Love You China.”
At the end all the skaters formed a huge circle on the ice.
No one seemed to have more fun than Hanyu.
He danced and hugged Bing Dwen Dwen, the Games’ widely popular panda mascot, and was picked up and spun around by China’s Liu as the crowd cheered.
Japan’s “Ice Prince” was one of the last to leave the rink, taking bow after bow to rapturous applause.
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