Ice Network

Tapas Grandes: Hanyu embodies emotion of music

Wagner filled with regret after short; Synchro skaters invade Barcelona
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Yuzuru Hanyu says that while he skates his short program, he keeps the image of Frédéric Chopin playing his first ballade in his head. -Getty Images

Spain is here!

The stands at the Barcelona International Convention Centre were full Thursday and Friday night. Several hundred Japanese spectators made the trip and are filling the stands along the length of the rink. Seeing the number of Japanese flags rising after each Japanese skater ends his or her program, one might wonder if there were any other nationalities here at all. In fact there are. Each time a skater or team ends a flawless program, the crowd yells "Olé!" all at once, as if it were a corrida. At least there are still some Spaniards left in the rink! Or did the Japanese fans adopt the Spanish flavor?

What it takes to be a champion, and an artist

Ashley Wagner was so sorry Friday when she left the kiss and cry after her short program. She managed to be so present in her routine, although things did not turn out the way she hoped.

"Skating is a very personal and emotional sport for me, and that makes me vulnerable under pressure. I am so in tune with my emotions and I'm so present with my skating that it opens me up to the nerves and the fear that I experience," Wagner said. "I'm 24 and still learning."

It's so difficult to be an artist and an athlete at the same time. And Ashley is such a champion and an inspiration to watch. 

"Tomorrow is another day," she added. "But I'm also getting sick of saying that tomorrow is another day!"

Well, tomorrow has become today. Good luck, champion!

A skater and his music

"I think I could not have skated to Chopin when I was young," Yuzuru Hanyu said after his winning performance at the 2014 Grand Prix Final.

He elected to keep the same program for this season, and has even refined his approach to it.

"I skate with an original image of Chopin playing his first ballade, and of the piano," Hanyu explained. "Yet I don't feel bonded by this image. I'm not the player, and I'm not the music itself. I am a skater, and I am jumping and spinning and skating steps. At the same time, I'm feeling the sound and feeling the way the players are really feeling the music. (What) I mean (is) that I find myself at different levels than the player or the music."

Would he then say that he embodies the emotion that the music is carrying within him, then?

"Yes," Hanyu said, nodding and smiling.

"My free program is completely different," he added, "As it is far from classical music. It's traditional Japanese music and dances. Of course, I need to focus on my elements: my jumps, spins and steps. In my free program, I have included some movements from Noh theatre and kyōgen. In the same way as with Chopin, I refer to that music, but I am not bonded by it. I'll also express some emotions."

Surprise! (From Sweden and elsewhere)

Even when the greatest skaters are at hand, they usually rapidly dissolve in a big city like Barcelona, and soon become anonymous in the daily crowd as they wander the streets and shopping malls.

This changed when the five best synchronized skating teams of the world arrived in the city. All at once, you could find yourself in the middle of the street, facing 20 young ladies, all dressed alike, heads up and backs straight (yes, even when walking in the streets!). Surprise!

Press ladder

Saturday morning, as the ladies were practicing, a young lady started setting up a strange plastic ladder on the floor of the mixed zone.

"That's for Shoma [Uno]," she explained with a broad smile. "It's for his warmup. It's the first year we do that, but it will help him."

Shoma arrived a few minutes later, and guess how? Running like an elf, of course, in his usual "firecracker" style. He started running from one foot to the next, following his physical trainer's advice and signs. Then he embarked on a series of steps from one spot to the next, one foot out and one foot off, at a rock 'n' roll pace, with incredible dexterity. No wonder he is so energetic on the ice!

The grown up and the upcoming

In the main hall of the convention center, you find the rink, where the best skaters in the world are competing this week. In the lobby leading to it, a small-scale version of the rink is set up, containing boards just like the ones found in its bigger sister -- only they are about 30 feet long and 15 feet wide. On the perimeter, small benches and lockers have been installed. In the lockers are small blue skates, with some helmets on top of them. The surface is covered with a plastic sheet, so that children can practice skating on their way to the arena.

Even though the beach is more present than ice in Barcelona, who knows? Maybe one day one of these little ones will come to the other side of the doors.