After being absent from the competitive scene for 18 months, Han Yan made a successful return to competition on home soil at 2019 Cup of China in early November. His second-place finish in Chongqing was a pleasant surprise not only for his fans, but also for the skater himself. Happy to be back and skating well, winning a medal was the icing on the cake for the Harbin native.

Tired and frustrated, Yan stepped away from competition after a disappointing 23rd-place finish at the 2018 Olympic Winter Games in PyeongChang, South Korea. The 23-year-old said there were many reasons for his decision to quit skating, some of which were related to how he was being treated. “I felt like I didn’t receive a fair platform to train because I didn’t even have a coach before the 2018 Olympics. I had no idea where I should go after that, either because I didn’t even have a coach before the 2018 Olympics. I had no idea where I should go after that, either. After the Olympics, I felt like I was the abandoned one, and that I was treated like a piece of trash.”

Injuries played a role in his decision as well. The 2012 World Junior champion underwent shoulder surgery in 2017 and was dealing with other physical ailments. “I did have a lot of injuries, but I still don’t think that I should have been treated that way. I was very unhappy and thought that maybe that was it. I didn’t want to get in touch with anyone related to the national team, or be involved in anything on the ice anymore,” he explained.

Yan said at that time he had a lot of options and planned to study and travel the world. However, the sport does not let you off the hook that easily, and figure skating remained not only on his mind but, more importantly, in his heart. “The reason why I came back is that I kept dreaming about skating even when I didn’t skate anymore,” said Yan. “After all, this is something I’ve been doing for over 20 years, and through all these years, I always dreamed about figure skating.

“Then I realized that I was previously affected by people who looked at me with prejudice and an attitude, which was totally unnecessary. That’s why I decided to come back. I believe that I should keep doing what I like, and not care too much about what other people think or say.That’s been my current attitude. And now, I just really enjoy the sense of fulfillment from each practice, the excitement from every competition, the love from the audience, the evaluation from the judges and their recognition of my programs.”

Yan originally planned to begin his comeback at Nebelhorn Trophy last September, but a slight injury prevented him from doing so. He began training full-time a month before Cup of China, and though he knew he would not have the technical repertoire to compete with the top guns he wanted to show everyone a good attitude and what he could do. Yan does not have a quad in his arsenal at this time and has only one triple Axel in the long program.

However, he was inspired by the success he achieved in Chongqing and that encouraged him to continue. “From the experience of that competition, I felt like I really should come back. Otherwise, I will not live up to my own goals and will ruin my future because of other people, and that’s very stupid,” he said. “Of course, I still feel nervous before stepping on the ice, but I would say that the pressure is not as big as before, like I was literally carrying something very heavy on my back and in my skating.

“Now I really enjoy everything — being free and relaxed — because as of now the result actually does not matter to me at all. Being able to compete at Cup of China was already an opportunity given to me. I came back to perform and to bring good programs to everyone. So, I wasn’t really nervous or felt that much pressure.”

He has kept his old short program, “A Thousand Years” by Christina Perri, and has a new long program to the “La La Land” soundtrack by Justin Hurwitz that suits him very well. 

Despite his success, Yan is not sure what will happen next. Since his return he has been training with his former longtime coach Shuguang Jia, but said that this might not be a permanent arrangement. “I haven’t figured things out yet. As for where I will train after this competition, who my coach will be, or where I should belong … I don’t know any of that yet. I’ve actually experienced many setbacks along my skating journey, and I think those things are all normal to me. Now that I’m really just enjoying skating, where I train does not matter that much anymore. No matter which ice rink, no matter where it is, none of these will affect my training because I really just enjoy skating. This is what I like, this is what I love, and that’s it.”

Yan finished a very respectable 10th at 2020 Four Continents, which provided an added confidence boost. “I enjoyed skating so much that makes me wonder why did not I skate last season,” he said. “I should have come back earlier. Although I made mistakes, I will work to improve them. I have done what I could right now. I will probably have a chance to go to Worlds. I did not make any plans specifically for it because, for me, I think I just want to do as I had thought I can do training and make every step that I can. I felt really great after the short program and after the free I felt eve better. It has been a long time seen I went to an international competition, but skating in front of the crowd always really motivated me. I enjoyed performing because I didn’t have to think about my placement.”

The three-time national champion said he feels support from his family, even if they do not directly express that to him. “I believe that my family actually also wants me to continue to skate. Their attitude and the way they educated me is that I have to make my own choices in life. They would not really force me to do anything or tell me what they think is the best. My family is like that. I also received some encouragement from the fans. They all pushed me and supported me when I was hesitating, and I’m very grateful to them.”

Obviously, the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing played a role in Yan’s motivation to return. “I believe this is the dream of every Chinese winter sport athlete,” he said. “We are especially lucky because the Olympic Games will be held in our country and we can participate. This is something that we are all proud of. I don’t have a specific goal of what result I want to achieve yet because I don’t even know what my next competition will be, or where I will be training tomorrow. But none of this will stop me. No matter where I train, as long as I can compete in 2022, it’s a success for me.”

Following his return to China after Four Continents, Yan had to self-quarantine at home for 14 days. All arenas have been closed due to the Coronavirus, which has made it impossible for him to train and prepare for the World Championships.