Japanese all-time great figure skater Yuzuru Hanyu announced his retirement from competition on Tuesday, marking the end of a stellar career that included breaking more than a dozen world records and winning two Olympic gold medals.
The 27-year-old, dressed in a suit and tie at a news conference in Tokyo, said that while he was stepping back from competition, he would continue his career as a professional athlete.
He added he would keep striving to achieve the fabled quadruple axel – which has never been completed in competition – following his unsuccessful attempt at the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics.
Hanyu, a two-time world champion and winner of four Grand Prix Finals, is known to his worldwide fan base – including a massive following in China – as the “Ice Prince.”
His supporters are known for throwing Winnie the Pooh toys onto the ice after his performances; the skater considers the A.A. Milne character a lucky charm.
Hanyu expressed his “deepest gratitude” to his fans on Tuesday, adding he hoped people would continue supporting him and believing “it’s worth watching me skate.”
“Please continue to watch me fight,” he said, bowing several times to the cameras and reporters.
Many fans flooded to social media to express their support for his decision on Tuesday, thanking him for his hard work and dedication to the sport over the years.
Hanyu won his first gold medal at the Sochi 2014 Winter Olympics at age 19, becoming the youngest men’s champion since 1948 and the first Asian man to win figure skating gold. His Sochi performance made him an immediate star and arguably Japan’s most famous athlete.
He defended his title at the PyeongChang 2018 Games – the first male figure skater since 1952 to win back-to-back Olympic golds.
After his 2018 win, fans sent him tens of thousands of congratulatory messages, including one from then-Prime Minister Shinzo Abe – who afterward granted Hanyu the People’s Honor Award, making him the youngest recipient of the prize.
Hanyu attempted to secure a third gold medal at the Beijing Winter Games in February – but injured his ankle during practice, and fell while attempting the notoriously difficult quad axel.
Hanyu had not managed to successfully complete the four-and-a-half rotation jump before bringing it to the ice, and he ultimately placed fourth in the competition.
Afterward, he said in a news conference that his ankle had hurt so badly the morning of the final he had considered pulling out – and would have “definitely” done so if it had been “any other competition,” according to the official Olympics website. The same ankle had already been the source of repeated injury in the months leading up to the Games.
His ankle injury prevented him from participating in the World Figure Skating Championships in March, according to the Olympics site.
In June, Hanyu conducted an ice show tour through Japan but did not speak with media, the Olympics site said.