PYEONGCHANG, South Korea (Reuters) - For some skaters, winning back-to-back Olympic golds for the first time in more than half a century, especially while taking painkillers for a damaged ankle, would be achievement enough for a lifetime. But not for Yuzuru Hanyu.
Barely 24 hours after topping the podium in Pyeongchang just months after suffering an ankle injury so severe it threatened his career, the Japanese phenomenon has a new goal — to land a quadruple Axel, a jump no skater has yet achieved.
“Right now I have no intention to stop skating,” he told a news conference on Sunday, after winning gold a day earlier with a flawed yet nonetheless captivating free skate.
“I’ve already achieved all my dreams and I’ve really done plenty, I feel. But there are still things I want to do in skating. My whole life’s been dedicated to it and that’s been really good — but I want just a little more.”
At the top of that list is to land a quadruple Axel, which is believed to be technically possible but would require an extra half-turn in the air on top of the four already needed for any successful quad. Nobody’s achieved it.
“I want to do one, because nobody else has,” the 23-year-old said. “The jump that has never let me down is the triple Axel. I’ve probably put more time, practice and energy into it than to any other jump.
“One of my coaches has called the Axel ‘the king of jumps’ and while being grateful to the triple for all it’s given me, I’d like to aim for a quad.”
His immediate priority, however, is healing an ankle he damaged in November during a practice fall that forced him into an eleventh-hour withdrawal from the NHK Trophy and then an extended hiatus from competitive action.
Remarkably, his first competition since the injury was Friday’s short programme in Pyeongchang.
Hanyu said on Sunday that the initial damage to his “really painful” ankle was so complicated that nobody really knew how to treat it or even give an accurate prognosis.
“Everything depends on my ankle. I’ve been taking painkillers, injections would have been better but that wasn’t possible. So I’ve just taken lots and lots of painkillers.
“To be honest, the situation is unclear even now. All I can say is that if I wasn’t taking painkillers, I couldn’t do the jumps or land them,” he said. “I need some time to recover.”
Although Hanyu did not rule out a world title defense in March, he said decisions concerning future competitions would have to wait.
During the months after his fall, the usually upbeat Hanyu, an advocate of focusing on the present, admitted he had struggled.
“Mentally, I wasn’t in a bad state but the environment, the situation, the conditions all dragged me in a negative direction,” he said.
“I’d put a lot into skating, given up a lot for it. If I had to stop, I didn’t know what I’d do.”
But a series of physical issues in the four years since his Sochi triumph, including several sprains, surgery and a succession of illnesses on top of the asthma he has had since a child, all worked towards strengthening his resolve.
“But honestly, if there hadn’t been anything before I got hurt at the NHK Trophy, I don’t think I could have won Olympic gold,” he said.
“It’s because I had so many experiences that I was able to think and learn a lot.”
Reporting by Elaine Lies; Editing by John O'Brien