Exclusive! Halfpipe heroine ONO Mitsuki reveals Beijing 2022 mindset: 'What one likes, one will do well'
Ahead of the first World Cup event in Copper Mountain, 2020 Youth Olympic Games snowboard halfpipe champion tells Olympics.com about her Olympic dreams, appreciation for her parents, and ambitions for the upcoming Winter Olympics.
Next Wednesday (8 December), the world's top halfpipe snowboarders will lock horns at Copper Mountain (USA) in the World Cup season opener. The event will provide crucial preparation ahead of the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympic Games, starting 4 February.
One of the more closely followed athletes will be Japan's ONO Mitsuki, who at 17 is considered an Olympic medal favourite. Not that she'll be letting that get to her head.
“I need to improve the perfection. For that, I think it is very important to train more and much harder,” she told Olympics.com
Ono triumphed in the halfpipe at the FIS Snowboard Junior World Championships in 2018 and 2019, before winning gold at the Lausanne 2020 Youth Winter Olympic Games, aged just 15.
“I couldn’t believe that I got a medal. But I’m really happy to win gold in this big competition. It’s due to all the effort I have put in over the years, and the support from all the people,” she continued.
Before travelling to overseas camps prior to this season's start, Ono humbly spoke to Olympics.com in an exclusive interview about her love of the halfpipe, Youth Olympics experiences, and ambitions for the Winter Olympics in the Chinese capital.
Head over heels for halfpipe
Ono was born and raised in Saitama, on the northern outskirts of Tokyo where there is no snow. Her parents often took her to Gelande in Niigata, a well-known Japanese snow area. She started snowboarding with her older sister at three, meaning Ono's career has been nearly 15 years in the making already.
When she was eight, Ono watched the Vancouver 2010 Games and became obsessed with the halfpipe.
“Since Vancouver, I have been dreaming of going to the Olympics as my future goal,” she revealed
The Japanese prodigy's parents have enabled her Olympic journey through their unwavering support.
“Since I told them that I want to go to the Olympics, they have long cheered and supported me and my Olympic dream, which was really unrealistic. At that time, I had not yet started halfpipe! I respect and thank my parents.”
ONO Mitsuki: "Always thank everything and everyone"
After winning consecutive World Junior Championships, Ono then claimed gold in the Alps in the Olympic capital, Lausanne in January 2020 at the Winter Youth Olympic Games. The teenage snowboarder secured a huge score of 95.33, which beat silver-medallist and Ono's compatriot KAJI Manon by 10 points.
The medal and closing ceremonies in the city's main square were the best memories for Ono.
“I was impressed by the huge scale," she said. "I had never taken part in such a big sports event. The number of spectators, staff, media, foreign athletes and local people. Everything was new.
“People watched not only my results but also my personality. To be a top athlete, I learn it is not enough to be just competitive. I want to grow up as an athlete who is cheered by many people.”
Ono also offered advice to the upcoming generation who are heading to the next Youth Olympic Games in Gangwon 2024.
“Do not forget to enjoy your sport. Then, do not forget to thank everything and everyone, and you will be able to reach your goal.”
A new appreciation for snowboarding
Soon after the emotional closing ceremony in Lausanne, the COVID-19 pandemic engulfed the world. Like all other athletes, Ono was prevented from moving around the world to continue her training.
“The hardest thing was that I could not go to practice. I just trained at home during the period. I was in a fret.”
Through the hardship, though, there were some changes in her mind and mentality.
“Because of COVID, many races were cancelled last season. Now I come to take each competition opportunity more seriously.
“Recently I try to envisage only good images, thinking of nothing, especially before competitions. In contrast, I often watch my videos to see bad performances and analyse them with good ones, during my training. Self-analysis has increased after COVID”
Taking on role model Chloe Kim
Ono was inspired by one particularly memorable moment at the Tokyo 2020 Summer Olympics, which took place in her home nation in July and August.
“At the final of the skateboard park competition, (OKAMOTO) Misugu fell and missed out on the medals. But other competitors ran up to her and picked her up together. I am impressed at their respect. It would be great to enjoy sports like them.”
A similar camaraderie among snowboarders exists too, she explained.
“I think there are not strong rival relationships (among snowboarders). After competitions, we not only congratulate winners but also worry about and talk with people who have accidents. Despite nationalities and ages, everyone is friendly and communicates with each other.”
Ono’s inspiration is Chloe Kim, one of the greatest snowboarders ever.
“She never behaves as if she stands aloof as a top snowboarder,” said Ono. “She always communicates nicely and equally to everyone.”
The Japanese shredder is considered to be on the same path as Kim, who won the halfpipe at the Lillehammer 2016 Youth Olympic Games and then gold at PyeongChang 2018 as well. However, she admitted she needs to improve her cab 1080 manoeuvre in order to challenge her role model at Beijing 2022.
“I'm now practising the routine Chloe did at PyeongChang. But I know it is not enough to do the same thing. I am learning more evolved tricks.
"Also, I am training the consecutive tricks, frontside 1080 – cab 1080, that Chloe made at Olympics for the first time.”
Ono's strong passion for halfpipe is rooted in a traditional Japanese proverb.
“My favourite phrase is, ‘What one likes, one will do well’.
“I understand the meaning through snowboarding. Halfpipe may have fatal dangers – it sounds an exaggeration a little, though – but I cannot do a life-threatening sport unless I like it.”