A little over a year after winning gold at the Winter Youth Olympic Games Lausanne 2020, Kagiyama Yuma proved he has what it takes to step up to the thrilling and highly competitive elite level of men’s figure skating.
Aged just 17 at the time, Kagiyama was competing in his first World Championships – in Stockholm, Sweden, in March 2021 – and yet did not let the occasion overawe or intimidate him.
After scoring 100.96 points in the short programme, the teenager found himself second only to two-time Olympic champion Hanyū Yuzuru. But while both skaters were eclipsed by American Nathan Chen in the free skate, as the Olympic bronze medallist landed five quadruple jumps to score 222.03 points (and 320.88 overall), Kagiyama managed to hold on to second place as he outscored the legendary Hanyū 190.81 to 182.20 to finish ahead of his celebrated compatriot.
As attention now turns to the Olympic Winter Games Beijing 2022, all eyes will be on Hanyū’s bid to become the first man to win three successive Olympic titles since Gillis Grafström (SWE) in 1928, but Kagiyama could be ready to spring a surprise.
He has, after all, already tasted Olympic success at Lausanne 2020.
Olympics.com: What are your memories of the Winter Youth Olympic Games in Lausanne?
Kagiyama Yuma: I have a lot of memories indeed. I experienced a lot of things there. The size of the rink there was different, so in my short programme I was not used to it. In the final jump of my short programme, I hit the wall. I remember that.
I was also able to interact with various people from other sports, from other countries, which is something that is unique to the Olympics.
What did winning a medal there do for your career?
The Youth Olympics are something [you experience] only once-in-a-lifetime. I was able to represent my country there and was able to win the gold medal with my own ability. I think that represented a great growth for me.
It was not just an individual competition. There was also a team competition, and I was able to collaborate with my teammates and win the silver medal. That is also something unique to Olympics.
Is there a competition where you felt like you had established yourself as an elite skater?
I think the World Championships last year. I was able to gain confidence and see that I could go this far in major competitions. So that made me want to go higher and get better. I was able to foster great aspirations because of the World Championships last year.
I was also able to identify many challenges that I have to address. So overall, it was a great competition for me.
How has life changed for you since winning the silver medal at the World Championships last year?
There is not much of a change that I feel myself; if anything, there were more things that I realised I had to do. I realised I had more goals that I want to achieve. I wanted to participate in the 2022 Olympics. I became more eager to do that and get better. I was able to work harder in my training.
How significant is the mental side of competing for you as a top skater?
This season, especially, I realised the importance of the mental side. There are some things I could do well in practice, however, in the actual competition performance, I was unable to make the jumps that I wanted to in the face of mounting pressure.
I think self-belief is very important. I would like to have a positive mindset when I perform. The mental aspect is very important for me.
What would you say your goals are going into your first Olympic Winter Games next month?
My biggest goal for the Olympics is to make no mistakes in both the short programme and the free skate. Beyond that, I hope to go to the top. I want to show a good performance.
Japan has a good chance of winning a medal in the team event in Beijing – how important would that be for skating in your country?
When it comes to the team competition, it doesn’t get much attention compared to the Summer Olympic team events. It is not as well-known as individual figure skating events. If we can win a medal this time, I think it will boost the value of the team event and also the level of attention that the team event gets. It is important for us to win a medal.