Hey sports fans!! Thanks for stopping by my blog! I am a self admitted “rink rat” so a lot of this blog will be about figure skating and hockey, however as an ex-figure skater, ex-varsity athlete and a sports fan in general, I usually have thoughts and opinions about alot of different sports I follow, so visit often!
I thought I would try something a bit different in this blog post, and combine 2 sports that I truly love, figure skating and hockey. Pretty much the only thing that figure skating and hockey have in common is ICE. However, when it comes to superstars, both sports have their special athletes.
Given that the recent NHL entry draft is now over, it got me thinking about “generational players“. After watching Connor McDavid get selected by the Edmonton Oilers first overall, the dream of him playing for the Calgary Flames is now over.
In the hockey world, the term “generational player” is only used when a player is so dominant that people expect him to not only succeed as a franchise player but also to be able to change the face of the game. It is not a label that is given out lightly. It is given to a special player who gets identified as a protege when they are young, and as they mature and develop, their special skills, and special talent make them stand out high above the rest. Generational players are so gifted and exceptional that they have the ability to influence a whole new generation of young players after them. A generational player doesn’t just set scoring and points records, he is a natural leader as well. The excitement about generational players has the ability to fill arenas. Fans are excited to see these players play regardless of what team they play for.
Generational players in hockey (during my time): Wayne Gretzky, Mario Lemieux, Sidney Crosby, and yet to be proven, Connor McDavid.
The term “generational player” is more commonly used in team sports, however, since figure skating is not a team sport, I am going to call Yuzu a “generational skater“. Yes, I do think Yuzu is that good, that he fits in the same category as Gretzky, Lemieux and Crosby, only in figure skating.
I believe that Yuzu is a figure skater that comes along once in a generation, and that he is so gifted that he raises the level of the sport. I had to think long and hard to see if I could name other past skaters that I would call a generational skater. I toyed with the idea of Brian Orser first but as much as I am a fan of Orser, he missed out on the Olympic Gold twice, the only gold that is missing from his trophy case. While he is Mr Triple Axel, and has won 8 Canadian Championships and a World Title, something is making me hesitate about calling him a generational skater. But, he is the next closest skater that I would call “generational”. Currently, it seems as though Brian is more popular worldwide as a coach than he was as a skater.
The other candidate that I considered was Evgeny Plushenko. While Plushy has an Olympic gold, World gold, and many other titles, and his talent and consistency won him all of those championships, I struggle to see how he actually changed the sport, so I will leave it with calling Plushy a great champion.
Yuzu is still building his legend. He has the star power to grow and shape the sport of figure skating. He is a generational skater who influences those around him to be better, and inspires a whole new generation of skaters after him. Yuzu also has a global appeal that surpasses any other skater of his generation. His natural humbleness, charm, and charisma is not something that can be taught.
Many people in the skating world started calling Yuzu a protege when he was very young. He demonstrated a raw, natural talent that was hard to ignore. Not all “proteges” make it to the top of their sport. For varying reasons, some “proteges” just never realize their full potential.
Yuzu announced his arrival onto the senior stage by winning a bronze at the 2012 World Championships, he was 17. I think that’s when people truly stood up and took notice that this young Japanese skater was the real deal!! A young Yuzu started pushing and challenging the established skating leaders (Takahashi, Chan, Oda). This is truly how the sport grows.
Yuzu’s love of the sport, his work ethic, and his drive to push his limits is shaping the sport of mens figure skating. His training teammates, Javier Fernandez and Nam Nguyen have commented about Yuzu’s intense focus during his training, during competitions, and how committed he is to improving everyday. Yuzu has been a positive influence on his teammates, just as much as they have been solid friends for Yuzu as well. I believe that when other skaters see Yuzu practice and compete, it motivates them to work harder and push their own limits. This is evidenced by how many examples of social media videos skaters are posting of themselves these days, attempting quad jumps of all sorts!! I am calling this the “Yuzu effect”!!
The “Yuzu effect” is not limited to skating competitions!! At the end of each ice show in Japan, it is common now to see what we are calling “jump-offs”. While these types of special endings to ice shows started around the 2006, they weren’t called “jump-offs” back then. In between 2006-2011, many variations of the “jump-offs” or “spin-offs” occurred. Starting in 2011, when Yuzu lost his training rink due to the earthquake, Yuzu used this precious extra time at the end of shows to practice his jumps. The term “jump-offs” seemed to become popular around this time, but there really isn’t an exact moment when the term “jump-off” took flight, no pun intended. Fast forward to today, and these jump-offs are common and we now add the word “quad” to it, calling it “quad jump-offs”. We will often see Yuzu softly pushing other skaters to get involved, and he seems to enjoy this fun challenge the most. I’m not saying that Yuzu started the jump-offs, but he certainly influenced it to what it is today, and the fans are loving him for it! I’m sure this tradition will continue well into the next generation of skaters. *Thank you to poissonbleu for helping me summarize the history of the jump off! 😉
Only a couple of years ago, the primary types of quad jumps that we heard about were the quad toe and quad salchow. With other skaters hearing and seeing Yuzu talk about and attempt quads of all kinds, it’s too much of a coincidence that we are now seeing skaters all around the world attempt quads of all sorts, everything up to and including the quad axel. These skaters are not limited to those at the senior level either!! It’s unbelievable that we are seeing junior level skaters land one or two different types of quads already! Impressive, but crazy!
As we all know, figure skating not just about landing jumps and getting good GOE’s. While Yuzu continues to push the boundaries technically, he is now embarking on a new challenge for himself. He already has an artistic elegance about him that is very ethereal. Yuzu has shown us that he can excel in a broad range of programs, from Chopin to Parisian Walkways, and from Hello, I Love You, to Seimei. Yuzu is showing the world that a skater can be a master technician and also an artist.
So, what do these generational players/skaters have in common?? Aside from each one of them having a sidekick (Gretzky/Kurri), (Lemieux/Jagr), (Crosby/Malkin), (Hanyu/Fernandez), they all have the ability to elevate their game when they need to. They all want to be out on the ice when it counts the most!! When everything is on the line, these skaters are able to put out their best, and rise above the pressure. This is what separates the “generational” skaters from the “great” skaters.
In my view, Yuzu is transcending the sport of figure skating not only in Japan but worldwide. Yuzu’s appeal reaches all corners of the globe, all ages and all genders. The sport of figure skating is lucky to have a skater like Yuzu!!
Go Yuzu Go!! Doki doki!! 😉
ps: I tried to find the original author of the Sochi photo above – but unfortunately I do not have a source.