Although Yuzuru Hanyu has turned his back on competition, the two-time Olympic figure skating champion's desire to achieve unparalleled heights remains unwavering in his new venture as an ice show artist.

In a March interview, the 29-year-old said he would not return to competition but feels compelled to deliver skating performances at "the highest level in the world."

In February 2023, Hanyu became the first skater to perform solo at Tokyo Dome in a show attended by around 35,000 spectators.

File photo shows two-time figure skating Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu performing during the "Stars on Ice" exhibition show at Towa Pharmaceutical Ractab Dome in Osaka in March 2023. (Kyodo)

The performance was also shown live to paying audiences in Japan and overseas at movie theaters. This past February, a show on Hanyu's first solo tour drew a standing-room-only crowd in Yokohama.

In July 2022, five months after failing to win a third straight Olympic gold medal, Hanyu left competition behind, saying that he "stopped wanting to be evaluated" in terms of points, but would seek new ways to express himself in skating exhibitions.

"I have taken all the necessary steps (in competition) to get to this point," Hanyu said, expressing no regrets about his change of direction.

With total creative control over his shows as producer and director, Hanyu is working with an array of talented collaborators. In addition to choreographer Mikiko, Hanyu has summoned top visual, music and lighting professionals.

File photo shows two-time figure skating Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu performing during the "Fantasy on Ice" exhibition show at Makuhari Messe in Chiba east of Tokyo in May 2023. (Kyodo)

"My mind was attached to doing things one can't imagine within the competitive framework," Hanyu said. "I feel as if the others involved are so far ahead of me. I need to evolve."

Despite his international fame, Hanyu, a native of northeastern Japan's Miyagi Prefecture, maintains strong ties with the area, which was devastated by the March 11, 2011 magnitude-9.0 earthquake and tsunami.

He performed a show there in March 2023, and again last month, 13 years after the disaster, which claimed over 15,000 lives, struck Miyagi and neighboring Iwate and Fukushima prefectures, triggering a nuclear disaster.

Two-time figure skating Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu poses with a message he wrote during an interview in the northeastern Japan city of Sendai on March 11, 2024, the 13th anniversary of the earthquake and tsunami that devastated the country's northeast and triggered a nuclear disaster. (Kyodo)

Hanyu said his thoughts are also with the victims of the M-7.6 quake that jolted Ishikawa Prefecture in central Japan on New Year's Day, leaving more than 200 dead.

"I keep skating with the wish that those people affected can put aside reality, and experience joy for a moment," he said.

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