The Greatest Figure Skater Ever Is Michael Jackson on Ice, Surrounded by Winnie the Poohs


Five Japanese television networks covered Hanyu’s performance at the Rostelecom Cup in Moscow. So did several dozen print journalists and photographers who recorded his every jump, spin and utterance. Last spring, the skating website icenetwork.com found Hanyu on the cover of 19 publications called mooks — a combination of magazine and book — at a Japanese bookstore.

The bookstore was not in Tokyo. It was in Midtown Manhattan.

“It reminds me of when Michael Jackson was in his heyday, or meeting the Pope,” said Jackie Wong, a prominent skating blogger and former skater who lives in New York. “People see Hanyu for the first time and they become hysterical or they’re moved to tears. It’s like their lives are complete. It’s crazy.”

As Hanyu was introduced in Moscow for the short program at the Rostelecom Cup, Japanese fans waved small national flags. On one side of the rink alone, there were 16 banners proclaiming “Go Yuzu” and other exhortations. As Hanyu began to perform to Chopin, the crowd grew so quiet that the scrape of his blades could be heard in the upper reaches of Megasport Arena.

A month earlier, Hanyu had set a world record for points for a short program. But in Moscow, he landed clumsily on a quadruple salchow and put his hands to the ice after an awkward combination jump. The judges placed him second to Chen. Still, Hanyu’s appreciative fans showered the ice with dozens of Pooh dolls.

“Did you see the Poohs?” Yoshiko Kobayashi, the high-performance director of the Japanese Skating Federation, later asked an American reporter. “The ice turned yellow.”

After a news conference with international reporters, Hanyu was engulfed on a dais by Japanese reporters and photographers.

Kobayashi pulled a stopwatch from her purse.

“I control,” she said.

The Japanese reporters would have five minutes, she said. She gave them almost seven, then freed Hanyu from the scrum.