Olympians Sakamoto, Miyahara aim for second Games: We’re ‘in a great environment’
In an exclusive chat with Olympics.com, Sakamoto Kaori and Miyahara Satoko discuss what their PyeongChang 2018 experience meant to them – and how it's driving them for the coming Winter Games.
The duo, now 21 and 23, respectively, are two of the top favourites at this week’s (23-26 December) Japanese national championships in Saitama, where three women will be selected for the Japanese team for Beijing 2022.
Kihira Rika, the 2018 Grand Prix Final winner, is sitting out the event due to an ankle injury, putting an end to her hopes to qualify for the Winter Games.
Sakamoto and Miyahara are part of a crowded women’s field that is chasing those three spots, including triple Axel-jumping Higuchi Wakaba and Kawabe Mana, as well as Mihara Mai, who turned in two strong performances on the Grand Prix Series circuit over the last two months.
Other skaters will factor into the race, too. Three women will be chosen for the singles team - a decision that will be announced by the Japanese Skating Federation at the conclusion of the event (26 December).
“I feel really grateful and very happy to be in this part of the [sport],” Miyahara told Olympics.com in October, in an exclusive interview during Skate America. “And of course, I have a lot of things to practice and a lot of things to achieve. But there are a lot of great skaters in Japan and [I] have a lot of chance to learn from everyone. So I think I'm really in a great environment.”
It’s a sentiment that Sakamoto, who won gold at NHK Trophy last month, shares: “I want to skate with a sense of gratitude for [my] teachers, family and other people who supported me,” she said. “I am where I am today [because of them].”
While Sakamoto and Miyahara’s Beijing tickets are yet to be punched, they’re continuing a strong tradition of Japanese singles skaters – including Torino 2006 champion Arakawa Shizuka – in which the current men’s generation boasts two-time Olympic champion Hanyu Yuzuru, Olympic silver medallist Uno Shoma and Youth Olympic champion and world medallist Kagiyama Yuma.
Sakamoto and Miyahara spoke to Olympics.com in Las Vegas in October. Read some of the conversation below, which has been edited for clarity and length. (Note: Sakamoto’s answers have been translated from Japanese; Miyahara spoke in English.)
PyeongChang lessons and strength of Japanese skating
Olympics.com: Thank you for speaking with us today. Can you talk a little bit about how the experience at PyeongChang 2018 helped shape your experience as a skater? What did you learn about yourself?
Miyahara: The experience in PyeongChang really makes me feel that I have the experience of an Olympics. And there's another Olympic coming on. It was a really, really wonderful experience for me. So I want to have that feeling again.
Sakamoto: In PyeongChang, I experienced a particular tension and enjoyment that [an athlete] only can get at the Olympics. I've been through a lot in the last four years, but my desire to compete [on] the special stage of the Olympics has increased a lot, so I want to give my best performance this season.
Olympics: There are many talented, strong Japanese women skating today. How do you all push one another to be better?
Sakamoto: When Satoko-chan was in Japan, we trained together at the National Training Centre on the weekends. [There] the national team members train hard for their own goals and lift each other up. Practicing with them makes my motivation higher.
Miyahara: As Kaori said, I - especially this year - stayed in Japan to practice. So on weekends, we have like the Centre with all of top level skaters, practicing at the same place. And there we really have to rely on each other and have a great practice. It's a great opportunity and a great chance to get ourselves in a really good shape. Yeah, I think that's a really great [place] that we have.
'I want to skate free'
Olympics: Leading up to the Olympic season, how did your preparation for the season go?
Miyahara: This season, I really concentrated on doing better techniques and also aiming for another higher step [of skating]. My free program is the same as last year, so I think I really want to be more strong [skating it] and mentally more confident.
Sakamoto: In this season, the choreography itself came late, and I feel uneasy a bit about not having enough time to practice the program. But I have been training a lot off the ice to sharpen my jumps and show my punchy performance. I'm trying to put all my effort into the program.
Olympics: You’re both known to be such compelling performers. What do you want the audience to feel when you’re out on the ice?
Sakamoto: I want to skate to excite the audience with my characteristics, [show] strength and a powerful performance.
Miyahara: When I'm on the ice, I really think about how free I want to skate and how much I want to express the whole story of the music. Every time it's really a lot of work to do, but I - especially this year - the [thing I focus on the most] is how I love to skate and how I want to skate free. I like to show that to the audience, as well.