As Hanyu stood on the top step of the podium at PyeongChang 2018, Javier Fernández of Spain was there as the bronze medallist in the same event, the men’s singles skating, to share one of his great friend’s finest achievements.
After the results of the men’s figure skating free programme were announced at the Gangneung Ice Arena, when Hanyu and Fernández shared a long embrace. It was one of many such public displays of affection during the years of competition between two of figure skating’s biggest stars, who train together in Canada under coach Brian Orser.
“We’re never both doing well at the same time. When things are good for him, I’m doing badly, and that pressures me to work harder to keep up. Then when I’m doing well he’s doing badly, and he gets sort of emotional about it,” Hanyu said after his latest victory.
“The fact that we can practise with emotion involved makes it effective. I owe him more than I can ever say.”
Fernández added: “We support each other in a different way. When we’re not talking, we just look at each other and make each other better.”
Hanyu, 23, welcomes the long-term support he has received from his friend as he has battled not only injury, but the emotional strain and disruption caused by a major natural disaster that struck his home town of Sendai in 2011.
A training injury just months before the Winter Games in PyeongChang did not just place in doubt his chances of defending his Olympic crown, it also seemed to threaten his entire skating career.
“More than worries about my strength, I was actually concerned about whether I’d be able to stand on skates again,” Hanyu told reporters after overcoming a stumble in his mesmerising free performance to win his second gold medal. He also suffers from asthma that once limited his training time.
As a teenager, he was practising in his hometown of Sendai in northern Japan in 2011 when a 9.0 magnitude earthquake set off a tsunami and nuclear meltdown.
As the ice cracked around him and the arena shook so hard he couldn’t stand, Hanyu crawled off the ice and fled outside in his skates without even putting on the guards, damaging them.
“Those were really tough days, but I was inland and only suffered from the [earth]quake, although we didn’t have electricity, gas or water. Many others suffered much more, from the tsunami and nuclear disaster,” he recalled.
“So many people in the disaster zone smiled when I came to them from Sochi after winning the gold. I hope they’ll take even more confidence from this and smile even more.”
The support that Hanyu has been able to rely on from his friend Fernández has been an important emotional bolster – so much so that when the Spaniard told Hanyu that PyeongChang 2018 would be his last Olympic Winter Games, the latter is reported to have broken down and said, “I can’t do it without you”.
Fernández summed up their friendship thus: “With ‘Yuzu’, we are everything, we are friends, we are teammates, at some point we have to be rivals.
“It’s like having a wife. Your wife is your friend, your wife is everything – but it depends on the time. When we are on the ice, we are competing against each other, but when the competition is done, we are friends again, and we work together again.”