There is nothing in life like a moment of serendipity.
Ice Time had one of these recently and it could not have worked out better.
On my way to the second day of the Japan Junior Championships in Sapporo last month, I walked down to the subway station underneath my hotel to catch the train out to Tsukisamu Gymnasium. As I walked along the platform, I ran into one of the skaters and her mother.
We struck up a conversation and then chatted on the ride to the venue. I didn’t realize how good my fortune had been until I saw her compete a few hours later.
The young skater was Moa Iwano and she was with her mother Tomomi.
Moa skated to “Kiss of the Vampire” for her free skate that day, and moved up from 21st after the short program to place 15th in a field of 30 in the final results in her first Japan Junior Championships.
Not a bad showing for anybody, much less someone only 12 years old.
Iwano and her mother were very nice and agreed after the free skate to meet the following morning for an interview. I had been hoping to meet a rising young skater with great potential at the event, and that is exactly what happened.
I started at the beginning to get the back story of her life to this point.
Iwano was born in Seoul and lived there until she and her family moved to Kobe when she was 7. She can speak fluent Korean.
“I began skating when I was 3,” Iwano recalled. “At my third birthday party at a restaurant that was next to an ice rink I was taken by the beautiful outfit that one of the skaters was wearing.”
Shortly thereafter, Iwano started taking almost daily lessons with a professional coach and nine years later she is primed for a move into the junior ranks next season.
“I entered my first competition when I was 7 years old,” Iwano stated.
Ice Time asked the youngster who her skating idols are. With the incredible rise of the sport in Asia in the past 10 years, she named two of its biggest stars ever.
“Yuna Kim and Mao Asada,” Iwano replied.
How about male skaters?
“I like Daisuke Takahashi and Javier Fernandez.”
What really impressed me was the determination I felt in this young lady. At 12 she and her family are already looking far down the road.
All the way to the 2022 Beijing Olympics. Iwano will be one month shy of her 18th birthday when those games are held, and she is planning to be there — not as a spectator, but as a member of the Japan team.
Now a junior high school student, Iwano is already putting in the work required to succeed at the elite level.
“I currently train 3 to 4 hours a day, six days a week,” she said. “So it’s 18 hours a week plus off-ice core training twice a week.”
Much has been made of the fact that Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu and world champion Fernandez train together at the same rink in Toronto. Just about everybody agrees that it has been good for both of them to practice together and push each other.
Hanyu and Fernandez’s results under the tutelage of coach Brian Orser speak for themselves. The Olympic gold medal, world championships, national championships, Grand Prix Final titles.
It just so happens that Iwano is in a somewhat similar situation. She trains at the Kansai University rink in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, with the world’s top-ranked female skater Satoko Miyahara and some of the globe’s top junior skaters.
Iwano practices each day with world junior champion Marin Honda and rising stars Yuna Shiraiwa and Rika Kihira, who all train under Mie Hamada.
Iwano is coached by Utako Nagamitsu (who once coached Takahashi) and former Japan Olympian Takeshi Honda, but shares the same rink with Hamada’s team.
Iwano agreed with Ice Time’s take that skaters are usually friends, competing against the elements, and not against each other.
It’s an old saying that “success breeds success.” I have always believed this to be true. When you are surrounded by greatness, you are inspired to work hard and achieve.
“I am working on a quadruple salchow and triple axel at practice almost every day now,” stated Iwano. “I will try them next season in my programs.”
Those are pretty lofty goals for any skater.
For the record, only one female skater in history (Miki Ando) has landed a quad salchow in competition and she did it some 14 years ago (at the 2002 Junior Grand Prix Final).
Kihira became the first junior to land a triple axel in international competition in more than 10 years when she did it earlier this season. No junior had done it since Mao back in 2006.
The hard work Iwano puts in each day is already yielding results and garnering attention. She placed second at the Japan Advanced Novice Championships in October.
When I mentioned to a fellow sports writer that Sunday that I had met Iwano and her mother on the way to the rink, the person began to detail her high regard for the skater.
“You met Moa? Wow,” the writer said. “She is very good. I really like her programs.”
Earlier this season Iwano finished third at the Asian Open Trophy in the Philippines in a competition won by South Korean sensation and national champion You Young (also 12).
This season Iwano is skating to “The Little Prince” for her short program, which was choreographed by two-time Olympian Akiko Suzuki. Iwano’s costume is a beautiful blue outfit.
“Moa is an actress on the ice,” Suzuki wrote in an email to Ice Time. “She can act many characters because she has a million facial expressions. Also, she fascinates the audience with her charm and very good jumping skill. So, I can say she has totally high level figure skating skills.”
Added Suzuki, “I think she will get better when she gains skating speed.
“I am very proud that I could do her choreography.”
Iwano and her family are already thinking about the possibility of her going overseas some day to work with a foreign coach. Orser was mentioned as a possibility down the line.
“In the near future she might like to go to Canada or the U.S. to train,” said Tomomi Iwano. “Maybe when she turns 14 or 15.”
“It’s a good thing that Japanese skaters go overseas to train,” Moa Iwano said, displaying a maturity far beyond her years.
Already speaking two languages fluently, Moa is considering studying English, which will be useful if she does relocate to Canada or the United States.
Iwano will show her skills at a test in June for Japan Skating Federation officials at Nagoya’s Chukyo University when they will decide on the Junior Grand Prix assignments for next season.
Iwano has hobbies that would be common to any girl her age. She likes shopping and listening to music.
Iwano’s exhibition program this season is set to the music of one of her favorites, Ariana Grande, and her popular tune “Focus.”
Even in her spare time Iwano has her eye on the ball.
“I also watch videos of Yuna Kim and Evgenia Medvedeva skating on YouTube,” added Iwano.
Despite still being young in skating terms, Iwano has already been asked to participate in three shows. She has performed in Mao’s “The Ice,” as well as “Christmas on Ice” and Kansai University’s own exhibition.
This week Moa and her mother will attend the senior national championships in Osaka. It may be the last time she is watching them from the stands for a long time.
The top-six finishers at the Japan Junior Championships each season get to skate at the senior nationals.
Next season, Iwano will very likely be one of the competitors.