KAGIYAMA Yuma exclusive: Why mental health is hugely important

The Lausanne 2020 YOG champion will compete at Japanese nationals this week. After two wins on the Grand Prix Series, the figure skater is looking to lock in his spot for the coming Winter Olympic Games.

By Yukifumi Tanaka
Picture by 2021 Getty Images

KAGIYAMA Yuma, the Japanese teen who won gold at the Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020, ended the first half of the season with a result not many people would have seen coming: First place in the final standings of the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating 2021-22.

Having triumphed at both the Italian and French Grand Prix stops - in what was his international debut on the Series - the skater is now looking to win a spot on his nation's team, for the coming Olympic Games Beijing 2022 at the Japanese figure skating national championships, which will take place from 23 to 26 December in Saitama.

Earlier in the season, Kagiyama spoke to Olympics.com about his journey from Lausanne to Beijing. Read the exclusive interview below.

MORE: Exclusive: KAGIYAMA takes season 'one step at a time' as he eyes Beijing 2022

A 'once-in-a-lifetime' Games

Olympics.com (OC): What’s the biggest thing you’ve learned since your Youth Olympic gold in 2020?

Kagiyama Yuma: The Youth Olympics are important because they come around once in your life. I was able to experience what the Olympics are like. Above all, my biggest takeaway was that my passion for the Olympics has become stronger.

OC: Were you nervous when you competed there?

Kagiyama: Probably, yes. There haven’t been any competitions where I have been nerve-free, but it was good to concentrate on the atmosphere in the venue and to have a good amount of tension.

OC: How much do you feel your YOG experience has prepared you for the Olympic Winter Games?

Kagiyama: The Youth Olympics were once-in-a-lifetime Games so I really wanted to win on that stage. That strong desire helped me and I was able to perform well. I realise it’s important to really want to win. Now I want to go to the Olympics and I’m preparing for the season with a real desire to stand on the podium at the Games.

OC: What advice would you give to future YOG athletes?

Kagiyama: To concentrate on their sport - that’s the most important thing. ... I also hope you can have fun every day, experience the Olympic Village, the atmosphere in the venues... and to speak to lots of international athletes during the period of the Games. Good luck!

Inspirational skaters are #StrongerTogether

OC: What is your first memory of the Olympic Winter Games?

Kagiyama: It’s the Sochi 2014 Olympics. It was an unforgettable moment when Hanyu Yuzuru won gold. His performance [was unforgettable] as well - not just for me but for everyone. As a skater, it was really exciting to see.

OC: What’s it like skating on the same ice as more experienced compatriots like Hanyu Yuzuru and Uno Shoma? How much have those skaters influenced you?

Kagiyama: It's a great honour. They are the standard I aim for because I haven’t yet competed at an Olympics. I’m chasing after both of them, but I have a lot still to do… Thanks to inspirational skaters like them, I can continue to strive to get better and stronger.

OC: Was there anything at Tokyo2020 that you were impressed or inspired by?

Kagiyama: I watched table tennis and volleyball, because I like watching those two sports.

OC: The Japanese table tennis team was amazing. Did you see the moment they won a medal?

Kagiyama: Yes, I did, in both the team and individual competitions. Everyone was smiling when they won their medals… I don’t know how much effort they put in but I could feel how hard they had trained.

Kagiyama enjoys the greatest moment to determine his victory at Lausanne 2020 Winter Youth Olympic Games
Picture by 2020 Getty Images

Managing your mental health

OC: When I say mental health, what does that mean to you as an elite athlete?

Kagiyama: When I hear about mental health, I think about feelings.

OC: Is that important to you?

KY: I think it's hugely important. For example, when you get nervous before competitions, only you can overcome your tension. Therefore, it is important to master how you confront your tension alone at venues. If you get in a bad situation and are just depressed, you cannot gain anything. It is essential to know how to deal with your feelings.

OC: How important to you is taking time off and recognising when you need a break?

Kagiyama: I don't think it's important to take a lot of time off. As of now, I haven’t taken a long break, but taking a break is important when you’re not in good condition. I took a break once and surprisingly I could see in my head what was wrong and what needed fixing. If you are always at 100 per cent you might overreach. At some point, you need to rest and restore your energy.

Figure skating is 'indispensable in my life'

OC: What are you most grateful for now?

Kagiyama: That I can continue to skate with the support of my parents, family, manager and the federation. I’m also grateful for my fans who support me all the time. They support me and say warm words to me every time I compete. I really want to thank all the people who are supporting me.

OC: You’ve matured so quickly. How do you view your role as a skater who could not only make the Japanese Olympic team but also compete for medals at the Games?

Kagiyama: I feel that the expectations people have of me are bigger than those I put on myself. I try to maintain my rhythm while not feeling too much pressure. I also think it’s important that I find solutions to the challenges I face one by one.

OC: What does figure skating mean to you?

Kagiyama: It’s indispensable in my life; a precious sport I have been practising since I was young.

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