Winter Olympics: Skating star Hanyu battles emotions to discuss quake trauma

Peter Stebbings, Agence France-Presse

Posted at Feb 18 2018 02:12 AM

Double Olympic figure-skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu of Japan in action at the Winter Games in Pyeongchang, South Korea. He battled his emotions on Saturday to open up on the trauma he suffered in surviving the deadly 2011 Japan earthquake. Damir Sagolj, Reuters

Double Olympic figure-skating champion Yuzuru Hanyu battled his emotions on Saturday to open up on the trauma he suffered in surviving the deadly 2011 Japan earthquake.

Moments after the 23-year-old Japanese successfully defended his crown at the Pyeongchang Games, there was a somber moment when he was asked to talk about the quake and consequent tsunami that left more than 18,000 people dead or missing.

The slender star with a huge following in Japan was lucky to survive after being caught close to the epicenter of the magnitude-9.0 earthquake which triggered a huge tsunami and nuclear disaster in northeast Japan.

Asked by journalists to reveal more about that fateful day, Hanyu -- a budding teenage skater at the time -- paused for several seconds as he composed himself in front of the world's media, and inhaled deeply.

"Those were really extremely rough days," he said.

"I was in the inner land of the area that was affected and I was affected by the earthquake.

"The electricity, gas and water were shut down and those days were very rough.

"But there were more people who were affected to a more serious degree, particularly those affected by the tsunami and nuclear power-plant issues.

"I felt very sorry for those people."

On March 11, 2011, the day the quake hit, Hanyu was practicing at a skating rink in his hometown of Sendai, one of the cities worst impacted in the powerful tremor.

The young Hanyu had to watch in horror as the ice began to crack beneath his skates and the walls shook.

After fearing his skating career had been washed away with the closure of the ruined rink, Hanyu moved to Tokyo to train, opting to stay in Japan despite fears over radiation levels from the crippled nuclear plant in Fukushima.

Hanyu said Saturday that when asked the same question about the quake four years ago in Sochi, scene of his first gold, he did not know how to reply.

But now a double Olympic champion, Hanyu was more forthcoming.

"Four years ago, when I won gold, I was able to say 'hello' to those people affected (in the quake), they were able to show me a lot of smiles," Hanyu said.

"Maybe this time the affected people can give me more smiles."

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