'Burning' Hanyu to break pain barrier at world skate

Saitama (Japan) (AFP) –


Japan's "Ice Prince" Yuzuru Hanyu declared "mission complete" Tuesday in his race to be fit for the world figure skating championships, while admitting his injured ankle was still not 100 percent.

The 24-year-old, who retained his Olympic title in Pyeongchang last year after similar injury fears, likened his latest spell on the sidelines to being imprisoned and vowed to skate through the pain barrier in Saitama this week.

"Not being able to skate is so tough," said Hanyu, who is recovering from strained ankle ligaments, a problem that kept him out of December's national championships.

"It was like being locked in a small room while you're just burning with desire to compete. I can't honestly puff out my chest and say my ankle is 100 percent," added the two-time Olympic champion after a 45-minute workout.

"But how fit I am is hard to quantify. I'm 100 percent of where I could realistically hope to be.

"I had a similar experience before the Olympics and winning gold there gave me enormous confidence in my ability to skate under pressure," added Hanyu, who required painkilling injections to skate in Pyeongchang.

"I've slowly been building intensity and stamina and the amount of stress I can put on my right ankle. I'm ready as I can be, so my focus will be on winning the gold medal."

Just as at the 2018 Winter Olympics, Hanyu's preparations for the world championships have been shrouded in mystery and his appearance at practice on Tuesday was covered by hundreds of local journalists.

With Hanyu in the limelight, fellow Japanese Shoma Uno sarcastically thanked reporters when one politely asked about his preparations.

"Thank you for asking me a question," smiled the Olympic silver medallist and recent Four Continents champion.

"For perhaps the first time I arrive at a competition expecting to win. There will be some nerves but a different kind of nerves. I'm here to win gold."

American Nathan Chen could gatecrash the party as he looks to retain his world title, but Hanyu is set to spark a fresh wave of "Yuzu-Mania" later this week.

"Practice went well -- I did everything I set out to," said Hanyu, who is showered with stuffed Winnie the Pooh bears by his doting fans after he skates.

"In that sense it's mission complete. I won the world title in Saitama (in 2014) after winning the Sochi Olympics," he noted.

"It feels good to be back here, it's certainly easier to relax skating in Japan."