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!
In my last blog entry, I reviewed the 100, 200, and 300 point plateaus which Yuzu has recently obliterated. Here I wanted to take a look at the skaters that have been prominent thus far during Yuzu’s career.
While Yuzu’s legend and legacy are still being written, here is my view of the skaters that have defined periods during Yuzu’s career. Each of them are very important pieces in Yuzu’s story. Aside from Yuzu’s own internal motivation and desire to push the limits of the sport forward, these skaters have also motivated and driven Yuzu forward, faster than anyone could have imagined. Yuzu has always looked up to Plushenko as his idol, but apart from Sochi (team event), Yuzu has never competed against Plushy in an individual event so I did not include Plushy. Also a special mention to Tatsuki Machida who competed against Yuzu and whom I like as a skater but did not include here.
Throughout his career thus far, Yuzu has gone up against a few formidable competitors. Yuzu has stood on the World podium together with all of the skaters in this post, across the generations with the exception of Nathan who has not reached the World podium yet.
How rare is it to get all of these guys in one photo. A priceless photo!
Photo source: unknown
Yuzu and the Uncles:
Daisuke, Patrick and Javi are considered “uncles” of the sport since they are a part of an older generation of skater. Sorry to say that 26 is considered “old”. Each of the “uncles” have had great careers in their own right.
Yuzu vs Daisuke
The Yuzu vs Daisuke period in time is very polarizing. As I learn more about the fan bases of each skater and the animosity between them, I am shocked at the lengths some fans will go to in order to cause drama; drama that is amongst the fan bases, not the skaters themselves who all have a mutual respect for their fellow competitors.
Daisuke fans are Daisuke fans, and Yuzu fans are Yuzu fans. Never shall the two of them meet and like each other. I get it. These two are very different skaters, each with their own styles and talents. The Yuzu/Daisuke fan war stories I have heard are very shocking because I would never have thought this type of fan behaviour existed in figure skating (petitions to have skaters banned, con games, lies etc). When something negative is said about one skater or the other, fans go on the offensive and it has become a fan war that is not always so friendly.
Is this any different than a Flames fan vs an Oilers fan? For someone who has lived in both the figure skating and hockey world, I can say is it different. While hockey is a contact sport, and the fan bases can be very opinionated and boisterous, people generally don’t take comments personally (of course, there are always exceptions). In hockey, one would never be caught dead wearing the jersey of the other team, unless you have lost a bet. There is usually friendly bickering amongst fans of both teams, in and out of the arena.
While there is also some nasty trash talk as well, most fans realize this is just a sport to be enjoyed by all, and part of the fun is the friendly competitive banter between fans. Even if some trash talk is thrown my way or someone says something bad about my favourite player, I just laugh (if it’s a good slam), and dish it back the best I can. How many times have I taken heat for liking Ovie and Johnny when they don’t perform up to expectations. And, how often have I thrown a jab at my boss bugging him for cheering for the Leafs, ugh, and had to take the jab back when my guys were defeated. This is why I love sports, it’s fun! I can also appreciate that there are cultural differences at play here and the friendly banter and nasty comments between hockey fans would seem strange from another sports’ perspective.
A recent example of this trash talk is the Stanley Cup finals game 3 (yesterday), 18,000 Nashville fans chanting at the Pittsburgh goalie, Marty Murray, trying to get under his skin. We hockey fans think this is priceless. Different sport, different perspective.
Ok, I digress, back to the point of this post.
Daisuke was the leader of Japan mens figure skating for many years. His bronze medal at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver was the first Olympic medal for Japan in the mens singles skating event so it was quite a historical accomplishment. When I used to watch Daisuke (before Yuzu was around), I thought he was talented, but he never caught on with me as a “must see” skater. Daisuke’s skating didn’t “speak to me”, but he was still very talented.
Yuzu and Daisuke competed against each other for 4 seasons. Daisuke had a long career (skipping the 2008-2009 season) and I can only hope that Yuzu’s competitive career can be the same length, but these are different times with different challenges.
Daisuke was a skater that achieved many “firsts” for the Japanese men’s program (first Olympic medal (bronze), first World Champion). I am sure that Yuzu would have still made his mark in the skating world even if Daisuke did not exist, and with respect to Honda and Oda, Daisuke put Japan men’s skating on the map.
Yuzu vs Patrick
Patrick’s first season in the senior event was 2006-2007. At that point, Yuzu was still in Novice, and trying out the Junior level for the first time. After placing 5th at the 2010 Olympics in Vancouver, Patricks’ dominance in the mens event was clearly evident in the 2010-2011 through to the 2012-2013 seasons. I remember thinking at the time that it was so wonderful to have a Canadian skater to continue leading our men’s program. While I never called Patrick a favourite of mine, I was proud that he won those World titles for Canada.
During Patricks tenure at the top of the figure skating world, his dominance was based on his superior skating skills and an ever so consistent quad toe. Back then, Patrick’s quad toe was so large, powerful and consistent, that it set him apart from other skaters. During Patrick’s 3 consecutive world titles, there were other skaters who were also jumping quads, many of them more than one type of quad. However, none of these skaters could match the skating skills and the quality and consistency of Patricks quad.
There was a Daisuke vs Patrick period, but meanwhile, a young Yuzu was starting to make his mark right in the middle of Patricks 3 consecutive World titles. By the time the 2014 Olympics came, Patrick was considered the favourite for the gold medal but Yuzu came in and completely stole the show.
Yuzu and Patrick are very different skaters, both in physical build, and style. Each skater has their own appeal. I would say that Patrick is one of the last of the generation that isn’t quad crazy. While some people may dislike Patrick for his comments about the new focus on jumps and the impact they have on the sport and skaters’ health, I respect his knowledge of the sport, and his own body.
I think Yuzu needed Patrick in his career. Patrick was one of the large “walls” that Yuzu had to climb over. To get to the top of the sport, Yuzu had to go through Patrick. Personally, I believe Yuzu’s skating skills are just as good as Patricks. Their skating skills look different because their physiques are different. Yuzu’s speed is a bit more deceptive, but both can reach top speed in a couple of cross overs. The smooth glide and deep edges they each possess is pure brilliance.
Conversely, I think Patrick also needed Yuzu in his comeback. Patrick was a bit stuck doing the same thing; he knew what his strengths were. Having to compete against Yuzu and the new age of quad mania, Patrick has been forced to add a new quad salchow to his arsenal and now is even talking loosely about a quad flip. Without Yuzu pushing the limits, would Patrick have pushed himself to achieve higher technical content? We will never know this answer. But, they have helped each other, while each staying true to their own selves.
Yuzu vs Javi
Javi entered the senior category the same season as Patrick. While Javi took a bit longer to evolve as a serious contender, the largest improvement in Javi’s results coincidentally coincides with the arrival of Yuzu at the Cricket Club in 2012-2013.
While Yuzu and Javi are NOT BFF’s, both have benefitted from each others presence in training. I’m sure the awareness of what each of them is doing in practice is motivating and helpful in their development, and the support they show each other is commendable.
Before Yuzu, I knew Javi to be a skater that was never consistent enough to make the podium in a big event. As far as I can remember Javi has always had 2 types of quads in his arsenal. The period where Yuzu only had one quad (quad toe) was very short. Yuzu’s 2nd quad, the quad salchow, has given himself and his fans fits of despair at points during his journey. But, Yuzu never gives up on his toys and we are richer for it.
Yuzu and Javi have competed against each other for 7 seasons. In the last 3 seasons, Javi has been seen as Yuzu’s primary rival, however, this seems to be changing. Last season Javi chose to stay the course on his technical content. I think he made a big mistake as he now appears to have fallen behind. It will be interesting to see what Javi does this upcoming season in response to his results last season. We shouldn’t forget about Javi, but a new breed of skater has emerged, and Yuzu seems to be adjusting to this a bit easier than Javi is.
Yuzu as part of the 4 Horsemen:
Yuzu bridges the gap between the Uncles and the 4 Horseman. The “young guns” of the new quad era are aptly named the Four Horseman of the Quadpocalypse (cool name taken from Tumblr, credit to yuphoniumist). Yuzu career has spanned both generations and because of his natural talent and abilities, and has been able to adapt to this new breed of skater and be included in this group.
Yuzu vs Shoma
The Yuzu vs Shoma times are relatively new. Last season was a bit of a break through season for Shoma. It is inevitable that a younger skater will come up and push the top skater. For his part, Shoma has always been respectful towards Yuzu. While Shoma has said that he admires Daisuke, there are again, new fan wars between Yuzu fans and Shoma fans, since Daisuke fans appear to have adopted Shoma as their own. Much of the drama is fed and hyped by the Japanese media. I feel bad for both Yuzu and Shoma in this respect. Both skaters are just elite athletes, chasing their dreams.
Leading up to this Olympic season, the Japanese media hype is really ramping up. Shoma is getting his own sponsors, and more airtime. I think he has earned it. What I am hearing about the Japanese media is that the bias is glaringly apparent, and it really riles up the fans. One local sports journalist whom I know and respect said that the world of sports journalism was changing from what it once was. He recently said on the radio that “fans want affirmation, not information”. This really resonated with me. Based on fan reactions on every tidbit of information that comes out, I think he was right on the money.
As for Shoma, I think he is talented. I think it’s funny how all of the Daisuke fans have aligned with Shoma and that the divide between the powerhouse Japanese skaters is once again rearing it’s ugly head. I wonder if Sota Yamamoto had said that he admires Daisuke (instead of Yuzu), if all the Yuzu fans would suddenly drop him and he would be picked up by the Daisuke fans. Just a thought I had, nothing more.
As for the actual Yuzu vs Shoma. If each skater skates clean, I still believe that Yuzu should come out on top each time. I say this because of the small subtleties in Yuzu’s programs. Each movement is crisp and concise. Each beat of the music accounted for and there is a purpose for each movement. This is a type of polish that makes the difference in my eyes. Shoma is working hard towards this type of perfection, and once he gets there, it will become a matter of personal preference, and of course, I would always still choose Yuzu.
I wonder if Shoma would have developed as fast technically if he didn’t have Yuzu leading the way? I think it’s also good that Yuzu has someone that is pushing him so intently from his own country. Unlike Patrick who didn’t really have any close competition at home for the years when he was winning World gold, Yuzu has not had any chance to rest on his laurels, even at home. If Yuzu let’s up in the slightest at home, he knows that Shoma is there to take the title away from him. I think it’s a healthy rivalry.
Yuzu vs Boyang
Unlike many of the skaters before him, Boyang entered the senior event and immediately made his mark, and announced his arrival with a bevy of quads. Even Yuzu took notice, and credited Boyang for igniting a fire in him to achieve perfection! He was not about to be beat by the upstart Boyang, and the result was a free program World Record at 2015 NHK Trophy!
I love the quirkiness of Boyang. He is figuring out who he is as a skater and just having fun while he is doing it. What is interesting is that Boyang is really flying under the radar. While the Japanese media is hyping Yuzu and Shoma, and the American media is hyping the Yuzu and Nathan, there isn’t a lot of press about Boyang, at least not in North America. Perhaps some of the chinese fans out there could help me out on this, but I haven’t heard much about Boyang vs Yuzu. Does the chinese media built up any hype about these two?
Boyang has had his ups and downs in his first 2 years as a senior, but you can’t take away the fact that he has medalled twice in 2 years at Worlds. Boyang has come along at a perfect time to energize Yuzu. After Yuzu won Olympic gold and set new World Records in his short and long programs, the question was “what next for Yuzu?”. Boyang coming along at that moment prevented Yuzu from stagnating and becoming complacent with his success. I’m sure Yuzu was still planning on a progression forward, but was the plan this aggressive initially? Boyang was an accelerator for this technical progression. I credit Boyang for renewing a sense of desire and motivation to achieve more, in Yuzu!
*secret wish – someone re-ignites Yuzu after 2018 Pyeongchang to continue as well.
Yuzu vs Nathan
Nathan is the newest Horsemen to join the gang and completes the pack. In talking about the Japanese media and their penchant for creating drama and building up rivalries, now I get to take a look at Nathan and the US media. The US has been waiting a long time for a skater to come along and put their country back in the spotlight. Nathan’s achievements at US Nationals had the media anointing him as potential Olympic champion already. It’s funny actually.
In the 2015-2016 season, Nathan earned a spot at Worlds but had to withdraw due to injury. Then this last season, Nathan was expected (especially by the US media) to fight for the World title against Yuzu. Affected by broken down skates and the pressure, Nathan failed to reach the podium, yet is still going to be touted as a gold medal favourite going into the Olympics 2018. Whether this hype is justified or not will be flushed out this season.
The impact of Nathan has yet to be realized. His programs are still a bit of jump, jump, jump and this is where the sport appears to be going. Nathan has already expressed a desire to retire after Olympics and pursue his education goals. I’m not sure if he will retire if he doesn’t get on the podium at Olympics.
Each of the skaters, Shoma, Boyang, and Nathan are gunning for Yuzu. Let’s not kid ourselves. While everyone talks about achieving their personal bests and not worrying about winning gold, the goal is to win and to win you have to beat Yuzu. To them, Yuzu is the top of the mountain, and climbing this mountain must seem like climbing Mount Everest. It’s not impossible to do, but it requires training, and more training, and even then, if you perform your best, there are still other factors that can derail your ascent, and you have no control over what will happen.
I think that when Yuzu saw what the other Horseman were doing, it re-ignited a spark in Yuzu. He had already achieved the top pinnacle in his sport. Yuzu needed something to make skating fun for him again. He got just that in Shoma, Boyang, and Nathan each in different ways. An excited Yuzu, a motivated Yuzu, a healthy Yuzu makes for a potentially unbelievable 2017-2018 season!!
It will be very interesting to see which media will still have Yuzu listed as the favourite to win the Olympics, and who will not. Not one of the skaters listed above deals with the media and fan scrutiny that Yuzu does. So for Yuzu to achieve what he does, in the fishbowl that he lives in and with the pressure that is put upon him is incredible. I hope fans can do what the skaters do, try not to take the media reports so personally. Enjoy the sport. Enjoy the skaters. I’m so excited about what next season will bring, and hope that the skaters can each have their own special moment.
Go Yuzu Go!!! Doki Doki!!