Yuzuru Hanyu: Skaters Returning After Time Off
After the end of each Olympic cycle, some skaters retire, and some decide to take a year off to rest and think about their future. This post is about skaters who have retired or taken time off and returned to competitive skating for various reasons. Over time, there have been many attempts to return, some more successful than others. Some stories are still being written.
What drives skaters to want to continue competing after years and years of training and competing? Do skaters come back because they feel they still have something to prove? Maybe. Some of them come back for personal achievement reasons or simply the love of the sport.
There has already been a ton of speculation about what Yuzu will do after 2018 Pyeongchang. Will Yuzu attend Worlds during the Olympic season (2018 in Milan)? Many people think Yuzu will use 2019 Worlds in Japan to be his final swan song (no pun intended about Notte Stellata) and retire at home. Any comments about this would be pure speculation because I am certain that Yuzu himself doesn’t even know yet what he will do. I am sure a lot of Yuzu’s decision will depends on whether or not he is healthy, how tired he is (both physically and mentally), and if he feels he has anything left to prove or any goals left unachieved. More thoughts on this at the bottom of this post.
Wayne Gretzky explained his retirement the best in his most recent book.
“The older you get as a professional athlete the more time and commitment you have to put in no matter how good you are. I just don’t have the energy physically or mentally to train for three to four hours a day, six days a week to get ready for the next training camp”.
“Hockey isn’t the reason I am retiring. I could go to practice every day, play every game, travel, compete. That part of it is still great. It’s not about playing hockey, that part of it I can handle. In fact, I feel like I could play another ten years, but I know I don’t have ten years of “training” left”.
Source: 99:Stores of the Game (Wayne Gretzky), Chapter 12.
Recently, I attended the media/press calls for Virtue/Moir and Patrick Chan in their pre-Canadian Nationals interviews. I was impressed by their responses to the questions about their returns to competitive skating which motivated me to write this entry.
Tessa Virtue / Scott Moir:
- Scott and Tessa returned to the 2016/2017 competitive skating season after taking 2 years off after the 2014 Sochi Olympics. They did not compete at the 2014 World Championships.
- After 2 full seasons off, they acknowledged that their discipline, ice dance, had changed a lot while they were away.
- Tessa said that the large part of the appeal in coming back was how neat it was after a long time together, she and Scott were still learning, and that there was still insight to be gained. For their comeback, they didn’t want to skate the same way, they wanted to push themselves and learn different techniques.
- Scott said that they had to learn how to compete again. The competitive atmosphere is so different than show skating. He was surprised that they had to relearn that, since they had relied on that in the past.
- RESULTS SO FAR: Virtue and Moir won both of their GP events this season and also won the GPF for the first time in their career. They said they want to win, and they are definitely serious about it, also having won their 7th National title this weekend. Good luck Tessa and Scott!!
- Patrick returned to competitive skating for the 2015/2016 season after taking the 2014/2015 season off to pursue other interests. He did not compete at the 2014 World Championships. Patrick’s return in the 2015/2016 season was an eye opener for him. The mens event had a significant movement forward technically and Patrick was no longer a leader in this field.
- Patrick was asked how it felt to come back, and he said it was different because he felt that the challenge in his first year back was a big shock to his system. He had to build his confidence. As he gets older, he has a different mentality, and he is physically different.
- Patrick also talked about having a huge learning curve. He thought it was amazing that he was still learning at this point in his career. It has been both exciting and frustrating for him.
- Patrick has stated a couple of times in interviews that his goals aren’t focused merely on winning. He doesn’t want to focus on results.
- When asked what motivates him, Patrick answered that his motivation was personal satisfaction. His utmost long term goal is to skate 2 great clean programs (SP and LP). Basically, to do everything he planned to do.
- One thing that gave him great satisfaction was challenging the 4S and getting it done. 4 years ago, he would not have believed it was possible.
- He also answered a question that really resonated with me because it reinforced the discussion that Yuzu had with Brian. When talking about many people offering opinions about his skating results, Patrick said that “jumps dictate programs“. These words caught my attention immediately because it goes directly to the candid discussion that Brian and Yuzu had with each other about their communication. Yuzu basically said that he needed to work on the jumps to have the whole program work. It is interestingly familiar to what Patrick just said recently.
- RESULTS SO FAR: Patrick has had some mixed results with his comeback. Patrick knows he needs to catch up to be competitive with the younger skaters and is working hard to get there. Patrick is on the verge of winning his 9th National title, which would tie a Canadian record for the most wins. Goodluck Patrick!
- Plushenko’s accomplishments are too long to write, so a quick summary: Silver at his first Olympics in 2002, Gold in 2006. Then came the first break where Plushenko did not compete for the next 3 seasons.
- Upon his return in 2009-2010, Plushenko won another silver at the 2010 Olympics. Following his skate, Plushenko said “Without a quad it’s not men’s figure skating. I will do the quad in any case. I believe that the quad is the future of figure skating. The quad is necessary, that is my opinion.” Plushenko said of the gold medal winner, Evan Lysacek, “I think we need to change the judging system – a quad is a quad. If an Olympic champion doesn’t do a quad, well I don’t know…” Boy, did he ever have a correct vision of the sport of men’s figure skating. Flash forward to today’s mens event and the top men are doing 4-6 quads over 2 programs!
- Plushenko did not enter into any GP events for the next 3 GP seasons after 2010 and did not compete in any GP events during the 2014 Olympic season. However, he was named to the Russian Olympic team for 2014 Sochi. While he won a gold medal during the team event, Plushenko withdrew from the men’s singles event due to injury and subsequently retired.
- Plushenko announced his return from retirement to competitive skating again (Apr 2015) and plans on trying to make the Russian team for the 2018 Olympics.
- RESULTS SO FAR: Well, he did it twice before, taking basically the full 3 seasons off between Olympics, and won a silver at the Olympics (2010) and competing in the team event in 2014, but I highly doubt he can be competitive if he even qualifies to go to 2018 Pyeongchang which would be his 5th Olympics.
- Stephane competed in 3 Olympics (2002, 2006, 2010). He won a silver medal in 2006.
- Stephane did not compete in the 2008-2009 season. He announced his retirement in Oct 2008.
- Stephane came back in the 2009-2010 season. He made it to the Olympics but fell short of the podium finishing 4th.
- RESULTS: Unfortunately not a podium comeback.
- Mao won the silver medal in 2010 Vancouver Olympics and continued to skate through to the next Olympics in Sochi (2014).
- After placing 6th in Sochi, Mao decided to take a break from skating. She took the 2014-2015 season off.
- Mao came back to competitive skating in the 2015-2016 season, and qualified for the GPF that season but was off the podium.
- This season, 2016-2017 has been rough for Mao.
- RESULTS SO FAR: Mao’s comeback has been a tough one. Mao is struggling to regain her form and a persisting knee injury is slowing down her training. It will be interesting to see if Mao continues on for next season given her injuries, and the failure to make this season’s world team.
- At her 3rd Olympics (Sochi), Carolina won a bronze medal.
- After Sochi, Carolina announced that she was going to take the 2015-2015 season off.In January 2015, she was banned from the sport of figure skating for 16 months for lying during a drug investigation about her ex-boyfriend.
- Carolina was eligible to compete again starting January 2016 and in November 2016, she announced her intention to return to competitive skating.
- RESULTS SO FAR: No results, however, I do not think she will be that competitive in this new era of women’s skating.
- After her Olympic win in 2010 Vancouver, Yuna participated in the 2010 Worlds. The next season (2010-2011), she also participated at Worlds but did not enter any of the GP events.
- The following season (2011-2012), Yuna did not compete at all. After one season off Yuna came back and again, participated in the 2013 Worlds but did not enter any of the GP events that season. And, again for the Olympic season (2013-2014), Yuna made her comeback by entering/qualifying for the Olympics only. She did not skate at the 2014 Worlds.
- Yuna’s return followed a very unusual path as skaters usually try to enter into some event prior to the Worlds or Olympics to try out their programs and work out any kinks. While she did skate in a small event each season, she avoided the GP series.
- RESULTS: Personally I thought Yuna should have won the Olympics in 2014 and repeated at the Olympic champion. If you only focus on her goal to repeat as Olympic Champion, Yuna’s return was not successful but I will not go into the whole controversy that was the women’s event in Sochi. However, Yuna skated well in her return so I would call this a successful return.
- After winning Olympic gold in 1984 (Sarajevo) and successfully defending her Olympic gold medal in 1988 (Calgary), Katarina retired from skating.
- Years later, in 1994 (Lillehammer), Katarina attempted her comeback after 6 years away from competitive skating.
- RESULTS: Katarina placed 7th at the Olympics in 1994. Her skate was a peace message for the people of Sarajevo.
- After a silver medal at the 2006 Olympics in Turin, and a bronze medal at the 2006 Worlds in Calgary, in April of 2006, Sasha announced that she intended to compete in the 2009-2010 season and the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver.
- Sasha did not compete in the 2006-2007, 2007-2008, or 2008-2009 seasons.
- When Sasha came back fro the 2009-2010 season, she ended up withdrawing from her GP events due to injury and at the US Nationals, placed 4th and did not get named to the 2010 Olympic team for USA.
- RESULTS: Unfortunately, based on her goal of being at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, an unsuccessful comeback for a very talented Sasha.
Gordeeva / Grinkov (G&G):
- After winning a gold medal at the 1988 Olympics in Calgary, G&G continued to skate, and won the World title in 1988-1989 and 1989-1990 seasons.
- G&G turned professional in 1990 and therefore were not eligible to compete at the 1992 Olympics in Albertville.
- In 1994, G&G took advantage of the rule change that allowed professional skaters to regain their Olympic eligibility.
- G&G won their second gold medal at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer. They were the only reinstated skaters to win gold.
- RESULTS: Very successful return to competitive skating.
Shen / Zhao (S&Z):
- After placing 3rd (bronze) at both the 2002 and 2006 Olympics, S&Z won their 3rd World title in 2006-2007, then retired from competitive skating.
- After 2 seasons off, S&Z returned to competition. They came back in the 2009-2010 season and won every event they entered, including a gold medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver. This was their 3rd Olympic medal and their 4th Olympic games.
- S&Z (China) broke Russia’s 46-year, twelve-Olympic gold medal streak in pairs figure skating.
- RESULTS: Very successful return to competitive skating.
What fuels the competitive fire?
I believe that being competitive is part of you. I didn’t learn it, I just had it. If I am competing at something, I want to win! My sisters and I are so competitive that we wouldn’t even let my little nephew win at table hockey when he was 5 years old. We had to win! We laugh about it now, but we figured we were teaching him to be tough and be motivated to learn from those losses. Today, he can wipe the ice with us. Mission accomplished.
When it comes to Yuzu, there is much speculation about him for after 2018. As I said at the beginning, will Yuzu go to the 2018 Worlds or not? Will Yuzu stay after Olympics for one more season and retire after the Worlds in 2019 (Japan)? Since Yuzu is still in his prime, it’s hard to imagine him not competing.
Yuzu lives and breathes skating like no other. Yuzu said in an interview recently that when he was forced to stay off the ice to let his foot injury heal, that it really showed him how much he missed it being away. This realization may work in the fans favour in that perhaps he will continue to compete longer than we think.
Assuming that Yuzu would want to compete at the 2019 Worlds in Japan, could his course of action look like this??
- 2018-2019 – compete (if Yuzu wants Worlds, I assume he would do GP season too)
- 2019-2020 – take a one year break
- 2020-2021 – come back to try new things
- 2021-2022 – Olympic year
It’s not unthinkable. But, as I said before, I am sure a lot of it depends on whether or not he is healthy, how tired he is (both physically and mentally), and if he feels he has anything left to prove. As Yuzu is getting better at listening to his body and adjusting his training accordingly, I’m sure he will make the right decision for himself.
Like Patrick, Yuzu’s goal is to skate 2 clean programs at the Olympics. Of course, if Yuzu does that in 2018, then he is all but guaranteed to win gold and 2022 will be a pipe dream for many fans.
Each skater has different reasons for coming back. If Yuzu wins 2018 Olympics but doesn’t skate 2 clean programs (like Sochi), or heaven forbid, doesn’t win gold in 2018, will Yuzu still think he has unfinished business??
Recently Yuzu also talked about landing a quad axel in competition. Was he serious? Perhaps if Yuzu wins Olympic gold in 2018, he will continue to compete just to see if he can achieve the 4A dream of his.
So many “what if’s”. Only time will tell.
Go Yuzu Go!!! Doki Doki!!