'Conflicted' skating star Hanyu makes return despite virus fears
Japan's two-time Olympic figure skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu said Thursday he felt compelled to return to the competition this week despite "conflicting" over his safety as coronavirus infections rise nationwide.
Hanyu skipped this season's Grand Prix series on concerns that his asthma would put him at higher risk if he contracted the virus, meaning he has not competed since winning the Four Continents title in February .
The 26-year-old star will return to Japan's national championships in Nagano starting Friday, which will also serve as the final qualifier for the world championships in Stockholm next March.
Hanyu admitted Thursday that he had no choice but to claim a third world title next spring.
"My thinking hasn't changed," said Hanyu, who became the first male skater to complete the so-called "Super Slam" by winning the four continents in Seoul in his previous game.
"I want to do as much as I can to avoid getting the virus. As the national championships approached, the third wave struck and I felt very conflicted about whether or not to compete.
"But when I think of the World Cup, the four continents have been canceled so the national championship is the qualifying tournament for worlds and I absolutely had to go."
Hanyu said he had lived the existence of a virtual recluse since returning to Japan from his training base in Toronto when the pandemic broke out, barricading himself indoors and limiting his interactions to his close family.
He was unable to train with Canadian trainer Brian Orser due to travel restrictions but said he felt in good shape on the way to the competition this weekend.
"I trained on my own every day without a coach," said Hanyu, who competed for the national teams last year but missed the last three years due to injury or illness.
“It was difficult to take care of myself. I tried as hard as I could not to see anyone outside of my family and I didn't go out at all. That meant I could focus on my skating and I think I did a good job Afford.
"Because I was alone, I was able to analyze things thoroughly. Instead of hearing it from someone else, I had to look inside myself to see if I was doing better or worse."
In last year's Nationals, Hanyu finished second after Shye Uno, Pyeongchang Olympic silver medalist, who this week will attempt to win his fifth straight national title despite not having competed since last year's edition.
Uno, who trains in Switzerland, also missed the Grand Prix series after the French Grand Prix he was supposed to compete in was canceled due to virus fears.
"Usually you have the next competition to look forward to and you can work on what to fix with that in mind," Uno said.
"But there weren't any events this year and the season ends before it even starts."
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