National

Olympic speedskater Shirahata coaches kids at Kushiro school rink

Kyodo

Most school playgrounds in Kushiro, Hokkaido, have been turned into ice skating rinks this week as elementary schools began the new term Monday.

Kushiro, which has severely cold winters but relatively light snowfalls, is known as the “City of Ice” and has produced several Olympic-class skaters.

Of the 28 public elementary schools in Kushiro, 24 have rinks after teachers and parents worked hard sprinkling water at night to form the ice.

At the Seimei Elementary School on Monday, Olympic speedskater Keiji Shirahata taught first- and second-graders the basics as a special guest for a physical education class.

Shirahata, 41, who hails from Kushiro, finished fourth in the 10,000 meters at the 2002 Olympics.

Kushiro schools not only teach skating but hold an “athletic meet on ice” in which students compete in running, “tamaire” ball throwing and other sports. Learning how to correctly tie the laces on their skates was homework for first-graders during the winter break.

First-grader Ritsu Kojima skated for the first time in his life Monday.

“I fell over five times, and it hurts a little. But I want to be good at skating,” he said.

“Some kids couldn’t stand in skating shoes at first,” Shirahata said. “But I was surprised to see them being able to walk in just 40 minutes.”

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