On June 20th, Han Yan attended the strategic cooperation conference of the Qing Pang and Jian Tong Ice Art Center. He clarified that he wasn’t retired but was just no longer the Chinese national team. He announced that he was joining the Qing Pang and Jian Tong Ice Art Center and becoming a professional athlete. If the national team needs him and he feels in good shape, he is eager to compete again. Yan assured us that he still has a passion for figure skating and will stick to it.
iskating had an opportunity recently to chat with Han Yan and we would like to share this interview with everyone who has been following his journey through the years.
We sat down at the Qing Pang and Jian Tong Ice Art Center. Yan is still the high-spirited young man that we used to see, but he has also matured. He told us that becoming a professional athlete is an idea that has been on his mind for quite some time. He has also known Jian Tong for many years, and the Qing Pang and Jian Tong Ice Art Center has the professional training facilities that he needs. He feels that it’s a good time to make the change.
“Besides training and fighting for our dreams, professional skaters need to balance school, work, performing in shows and many other things. I will be able to set my own goals and plans for the future. This will also make my daily life more colorful. Right now, there isn’t a clear cut between amateur and professional athletes in China. As an amateur skater, my life seemed to be full of routines. “Train, eat, sleep repeat. “Skating was more like a task that I have to complete.”. Yan would like to get into a new lifestyle and mindset in which he can push himself forward and strive for the better. Becoming a professional skater at this stage of his career is an important step forward to taking full responsibility for himself.
Through ups and downs, I grow
Han Yan has attracted much attention since a young age. He has achieved a few major breakthroughs for Chinese Men’s figure skating. He was the first to win Junior Worlds in 2012 and also Cup of China the following year. His seventh-place finish at the 2014 Sochi Winter Olympics also tied the best result then.
However, he faced serious challenges in the past two seasons. Injuries, withdrawal from World Championships and a couple of coaching changes all tested his willpower and determination.
After a disappointing 26th place finish at the 2016 Worlds in Boston, Yan felt depressed for a couple of months. Then, he trained with Qing Pang for a few months and regained his confidence. During his training with coach Mingzhu Li, he felt positive and made strides on his way back. He won the bronze medal at the 2017 Asian Winter Games and continued to improve day by day. However, a week before the 2017 World Championships in Helsinki, Yan injured his shoulder. He could only do triples and felt much pain during practices. For some reason, he chose to withdraw from the competition and speak up about his injury. A few days later, he successfully underwent surgery. After that, the contract with Coach Li expired and Ms. Pang was also no longer a part of the Chinese National Team. He trained with Coach Hongbo Zhao and shared the ice with the pairs teams until the Olympics. The result in PyeongChang was not the best. Yan didn’t think that the suggestion of switching to ice dance, which was offered by the national team was a good idea for him. It would be even more difficult than singles to some extent. Therefore, he thought about quitting and retiring.
iskating: How did you feel at that time?
Yan Han: I don’t want to complain about anything or anyone. However, it is extremely hard to make progress if you don’t have your own coach. I was not surprised about the results at the Olympics, so I didn’t feel much regret or disappointment.
iskating: There seemed to be some time when you felt a bit negative?
Yan Han: After the Olympics, I didn’t want to be on the national team because I didn’t want to make trouble and affect the teams that were still going to compete at worlds. I thought about retiring.
iskating: Tell us a little bit about your life right now?
Yan Han: I prepared my programs for tours, did a couple of shows and was able to do some training here. If I have time, I help Jian (Tong) to teach a bit. I was also admitted into the Master’s Program at Beijing Sport University.
Having been through so many ups and downs, Yan has matured a lot. He has begun to reflect on the past and think about what he wants his life to look like in the future. He believes that a skater needs to experience many different aspects of life, training, going to school, working etc. Although he has so much stuff to balance right now, he doesn’t feel tired. Most of the skaters abroad live a busy life. They go to the rink in the morning and then do school or part time job after training. Some even have to work to pay for their training. It is their dreams and love of the sport that help them fight exhaustion.
Yan felt overwhelming gratitude to all of his coaches through the years. “Coach (Shuguang) Jia has great insights about the overall plan and direction. She is able to perceive many details that others aren’t aware of. This is her biggest advantage. Coach (Mingzhu) Li is so smart. She has many tricks that can help calm athletes down. Then, she will start working on techniques and details of the programs. Ms. (Qing) Pang is a world champion herself, so she shared her opinions and experiences with me from an athlete’s perspective. I learned a lot from her.” When he was training in North America, he was exposed to many new concepts. Coaches and choreographers there spoke highly of him. Actually, he might be able to make more progress if the training there can continue for an extended period of time.
Yan was particularly impressed by the athletes he trained with in North America. He was motivated to grow and take all the responsibilities for himself. “The athletes were able to balance a lot of different things in life and they continued to work really hard even when life was so busy and exhausting. This is something that I need to learn from them.”
I enjoy performing and I’m going to choreograph programs myself
This year, Han Yan plans to focus on recovery, so he will not be getting new competition programs. He loved all of his previous programs, especially the two that won him the Cup of China gold. The short program Viper’s Drag suited his personality very well. He was also in prime shape then and didn’t have to worry much. Everything was going quite smoothly.
In the future, Yan will still mainly be performing programs that meet his strength, but he will also explore different styles. Yan understands that his quitting the national team has been a surprise to many people. “I should be getting new programs and performing in shows, or I will feel sorry for my fans, and everyone who had high expectations or me. I have been competing for many years and felt concerned about different aspects of the programs. Now, there isn’t that much pressure, so I’m willing to try everything. Maybe some other styles also suit me very well. ”
Yan also mentioned that compared to those in Japan and North America, skating shows in China still have a lot of room to grow. “Figure skating isn’t that popular here. Even if we have invited top-class skaters abroad to join the cast, the audience was still limited. Of course, the market of figure skating needs to grow first.”
Besides, Yan plans to choreograph programs himself. He has been getting programs from world-class choreographer Lori Nichol for many years and learned a lot in the process. Lori took great care of him and even taught him a bit about how to choreograph programs and how to listen to music. Yan believes that he has potential in choreographing. He will try to start with kids first. This is another way to realize his value.
I’m going to start again from the beginning
Yan decided to become part of the coaching team at the Qing Pang and Jian Tong Ice Art Center because of the professional training facility it has. More importantly, it is about the long-time friendship that he has had with Pang and Tong. “They are like big brother and sister to me. They took care of me and took me out touring around the cities when we competed together. They were still mentoring me even after I switched coaches. When I was thinking about retiring, they offered me the opportunity to work here. I feel so grateful that they have helped me come this far. One should never forget why he or she started. Everything that Pang and Tong do is for growing and developing the sport. We have the same goal now.”
After a long talk for a few hours between Jian Tong and Han Yan, they decided to form a professional coaching team with Qing Pang and Jiaxing Liu, a men’s singles skater. They will recruit young skaters for professional training. The elite group will focus on preparing young athletes for the national team reserve. They would like to help kids realize their dreams and succeed on a higher level. Yan emphasized that he will make sure to find the best way of coaching specific to different kids. “I will not only teach them how to skate, but also how to approach life in general. It’s also about aesthetics and etiquette.”
Yan is currently resting his body and mind in order to come back stronger in the future. He has had a shopping list of injuries and felt tired after training and competing for so long. He needs a vacation right now and he is committed to start again from the beginning when he feels fully recovered and mentally prepared.
The first season of a new quadrennium is approaching and the ISU has changed quite a few rules. Yan thinks that this is good for the sport in general. “It will help improve the artistry of the programs and it is also a new challenge for skaters to become more well-rounded. There will be fewer loopholes in the rules. The rules are the same for everyone, so it is not about how they will be an advantage for some and disadvantage for others. After all, figure skating is a scoring sport and there is no absolute fairness in judging. Athletes need to focus on improving so as to make themselves favorable among the judges. I believe that there will be further adjustments and the rules will become clearer and more in detail. ”
Looking back, time and experiences may have smoothed some edges and corners in Yan’s character. There is no self-pity or complaint about others when he talks about the injuries he has had and the difficulties he has faced. Instead, he is trying to gain a clearer perspective about the world and his future. Looking ahead, Yan is approaching the different but more colorful life of a professional athlete with the confidence and authenticity that he has always had. He is prepared to take full responsibility and keep moving forward. “I’m going to start again from the beginning. I will not be able to go to competitions like Worlds if I’m not on the national team, but I can still compete at nationals. If I can’t, I will go to club competitions. I will shine no matter where I am.” He is calm and confident about his competition plan.
iskating: Many people feel very glad when they hear that you will continue skating. Anything to say to your fans?
Han Yan: Don’t panic. Wait for me. I’m sure that I will come back stronger. I’ve been seventh at Worlds and the Olympics, and I’ve also been twenty-sixth. What do I have to worry about? I’ve been skating for twenty years now, and it will always be a part of my life. I’m going to continue. I’ve been through peaks and valleys already, so I don’t need to fear about what’s going to happen next. I have my own plan and I’m going to stick to it. I’m bound to be back some day.
iskating: What’s your goals for the future?
Han Yan: I’m focusing on recovery now and also adjusting my mental state. What I’ve been through actually helps me grow and mature. I learn from my experiences. I’m not going to only think about training now but first improve my physical ability. I also hope that our new elite group will be able to produce amazing young athletes. I will try to perform more and enrich my choreography. I will keep learning and moving forward. At least I’m going to keep myself busy.” (Laugh)