Yuzuru Hanyu Withdraws From Key Skating Event After Injury

Hanyu, the reigning Olympic champion, sustained ligament damage to his right ankle during an awkward landing of a four-revolution jump in training.

OSAKA, Japan — Yuzuru Hanyu’s name was called at practice on Friday morning, and his music, Chopin’s Ballade No. 1, began playing over the public address system. There was only one problem. Hanyu, of Japan, the reigning men’s Olympic figure skating champion and the sport’s biggest star, was nowhere to be seen.

On Thursday at training, Hanyu had sustained ligament damage to his right ankle during an awkward landing of a four-revolution jump. On Friday night, he was scheduled to compete in an important pre-Olympic competition, the NHK Trophy. But little seems to happen without drama and a sense of crisis in figure skating.

Word spread early Friday that Hanyu, 22, would try to practice in the morning. If his ankle felt stable, he would compete in the evening. His fans, who follow him obsessively, began to gather hours ahead of the short program. Ina Oprisi, the manager of a medical equipment company, had traveled all the way from Romania, even with a ticket only to an exhibition performance on Sunday.

“I’m checking my watch every five minutes” for updates on Hanyu’s condition, she said.

Japanese reporters and photographers staked out the entrances to Osaka Municipal Central Gymnasium. The waiting was futile. Hanyu did not show up. He was receiving medical treatment, the Japanese Skating Federation said. He still hoped to compete in the evening. Anticipation reached a fever pitch.

And then the answer came: Hanyu had withdrawn. No details were given about the severity of the ligament damage, which occurred when Hanyu essentially did a split while trying to land a quad Lutz. Later in the afternoon, Hanyu issued a statement, saying, “I am very sorry to have everyone worried.”

His doctors had decided that he should not participate, he wrote. He would aim for the Japanese national championships, to be held just before Christmas. Even if he did not compete then, Japanese reporters said, the skating federation’s rules contain an exception that would permit Hanyu to compete at the 2018 Winter Games in February in Pyeongchang, South Korea.

Hanyu is a fierce competitor, and there is wide belief here that he will make every effort to become the first male skater to repeat as Olympic champion since Dick Button of the United States in 1952.

Some observers believe the injury might actually benefit him in a way, by dissuading Hanyu from compulsively trying for six or seven quad jumps at the Games, when his completeness as a skater could bring him a second gold medal with only, say, three or four.

Still, if Hanyu recovers in time for the Olympics, it will be his first international competition in three months. Meanwhile, younger challengers like Nathan Chen of the United States and Shoma Uno of Japan — both magnificent jumpers — now have a chance to try to gain an edge in conditioning and performance.

Other skaters and coaches wished Hanyu a speedy recovery on Friday. Some in the sport consider him the greatest skater ever, one whose presence inspires others to elevate their performances.

“We hope he will be healthy enough to compete,” said Chen’s coach, Rafael Arutyunyan. “He gives so much spirit to a competition.”

Asked whether Chen and Uno might now have a possible edge at the Olympics, Arutyunyan said: “We’re not talking about advantage. Competition is always good when everybody participates.”