Figure Skating

Satoko Miyahara enhances Benoit Richaud's growing influence in Japan

by Jack Gallagher

Staff Writer

Daisuke Takahashi, Kaori Sakamoto, Mai Mihara, Elizaveta Tuktamysheva, Bradie Tennell.

These are just some of the prominent skaters who have chosen to work with rising choreographer Benoit Richaud over the past few years.

Now two more names can be added to the list, and one is a very big star.

Four-time national champion and two-time senior world medalist Satoko Miyahara has had her short program for next season arranged by Richaud, she announced Friday morning on her blog.

It is a number that includes hip-hop to a combination of three songs — “Yalla,” “Tabla & Percussion Solo,” Egyptian Disco” (Buddha Bar Edit) / DJ Disse.

Miyahara’s training partner, Yuna Shiraiwa, has also joined the Richaud stable as she heads into her third senior season. The French choreographer has created Shiraiwa’s free skate for the 2019-20 campaign.

Richaud worked with Miyahara and Shiraiwa on their new programs at the Kansai University rink in Osaka last month.

Miyahara and Shiraiwa represent a growing trend of Japanese skaters who are turning to the 31-year-old Richaud for his innovative programs. Earlier last month, one of Japan’s top juniors, Moa Iwano, signed on with Richaud, who designed her programs for next season in Beijing.

Richaud is without question a man in demand these days. By teaming up with the 21-year-old Miyahara, he knows he is working with a skater who is universally revered in the sport. The Kyoto native is hoping to get back on the podium at the world championships in 2020 after finishing sixth behind teammate Rika Kihira and Kaori Sakamoto in Saitama in March.

“Working with Satoko was an amazing experience,” Richaud said Friday from France. “I always admired her because I could she see was one of the skaters who are really committed to their choreography and their style. It was a huge pleasure to have the opportunity to do choreography for her.”

Richaud then described the work he created for Miyahara.

“The new short program is an Oriental program, the story of Cleopatra with a hip-hop part,” commented Richaud. “I wanted to explore something different and I sent her a few ideas and was kind of surprised, because she answered and said she would like to skate to that piece of music. I was not expecting her to choose that music.

“Satoko is kind of a classic and conservative skater, and when I started working with her, I said, ‘I want to explore something different from your personality,’ ” Richaud continued. “I realized she is much more than a conservative skater or classic beauty. I think she can do much more than what she did until now.

“I told her, ‘You need to challenge yourself, because the (program) components are not getting so high (scores) anymore.’ ”

Richaud is confident Miyahara will be successful with the finished product of their collaboration.

“I think the new short program will help her. It will give her a new fresh start and it will give her a new kind of style,” Benoit said. “I think people will really appreciate it. It’s not going to be an easy program for her. Everyone knows Satoko is a really hard worker. We were skating 10 hours a day sometimes (while working on the program).”

Miyahara admitted the program would be something different than usual for her.

“Although it is a song contrary to my own image until now, I chose the music because I thought, ‘What changed slightly as a new challenge,’ ” Miyahara wrote on her blog. “It is a difficult program with lots of moves that I had not had before, but I want to skate it.”

Miyahara’s free skate for next season was set up by veteran choreographer Lori Nichol to the theme from “Schindler’s List.”

Shiraiwa, 17, trains with Miyahara under veteran coach Mie Hamada, and raised more than ¥14 million through a crowdfunding campaign as she bids to make Japan’s team for the 2022 Beijing Olympics.

“Working with Yuna was an interesting experience,” Richaud noted. “I didn’t know the skater and she reminded me a little bit of Kaori Sakamoto. I also saw her first at junior worlds like Kaori. I didn’t expect her to skate this way and have such a big quality of skating.”

Richaud was pleased with Shiraiwa’s willingness to take on a big task.

“Yuna is very open-minded. It was very easy to work with her,” Richaud remarked. “The program is very difficult compared to what she did in the past. She was very happy that I gave her something she will have to work hard on.”

Richaud says he picked something that he believes can help her excel against the best competition in the world.

“I hope my new free skate will help her to get more results. I did my maximum to really make her look like I think she needs to look like now as a senior skater, because I think her jumps are very strong,” Richaud stated. “I think she has everything to be on the top level internationally. I gave her a program that I think can show all of her qualities and is different from what she did before.”