Nagoya – One of the most rewarding aspects of being a sportswriter is the many opportunities you have to interact with athletes, coaches, executives and fans while covering events.
I have been fortunate to have done this all over the world and encountered some very interesting people along the way.
While I was attending the Aichi Junior Grand Prix in Nagoya earlier this month, I met another one. For this column we will call her Misaki Mori (a pseudonym).
I encountered this nice young lady on the way back to the station one day after the competition at Morikoro Park Skating Rink had ended. What ensued was a pleasant conversation with somebody who is very passionate about skating.
As she began detailing her travels throughout Japan and around the globe, it got me to thinking about what it was that gave her the magnetic attraction to the sport. So I asked her to chronicle her obsession with skating then and in ensuing conversations.
Mori is a 27-year-old office worker who lives at home with her family in Tokyo. She began following skating back in 2008.
I started by asking her about the events and shows she attended during the busy Olympic season of 2013-14, assuming there would be several, but having no idea how many when she detailed the actual number.
If you think Ice Time is big on skating, wait until you see Mori’s calendar from last season:
■ Fantasy on Ice (Fukuoka)
■ Summer Cup (Shiga)
■ Friends on Ice
■ Junior competition (Tokyo)
■ Chubu Regional (Nagoya)
■ Finlandia Trophy (Finland)
■ Kanto Regional (Shin-Yokohama)
■ East Inter-University (Tokyo)
■ Western Section (Kyoto)
■ NHK Trophy (Tokyo)
■ Japan Junior Championships (Tokyo)
■ Senior/Junior Grand Prix Final (Fukuoka)
■ Japan nationals (Saitama)
■ European Championships (Budapest)
■ Inter-High School (Tokyo)
■ Sochi Olympics (Russia)
■ Aichi Cup (Nagoya)
■ World Championships (Saitama)
■ Stars on Ice (Tokyo)
■ Lily Cup (Kanagawa)
■ Prince Ice World (Aomori)
■ Fantasy on Ice (Chiba)
■ Together on Ice (Sendai)
■ Beppu Exhibition (Oita)
■ Dreams on Ice (Shin-Yokohama)
Mori estimates that she spends about ¥1 million annually on her skating journeys. But taking a look at her itinerary from last season, one is inclined to think that number is likely conservative.
So far this season Mori has attended:
■ Fantasy on Ice (Niigata)
■ Asian Trophy (Taipei)
Junior competition (Tokyo)
■ Aichi Junior GP (Nagoya)
Mori moved back home in 2008 and claims her interest was sparked by watching skating on television, including the Grand Prix series.
“So I decided to go to my first Japan nationals (in Nagano),” she noted, “and I met the great talent Yuzuru (Hanyu).”
She says she was hooked after that.
When asked to cite her favorite skaters, she included among a list of more than 40 skaters Olympic and world champion Hanyu, Miyabi Oba, Haruka Imai and Russian ice dancers Elena Ilinkykh and Nikita Katsalapov.
Mori said “she loves the Russian girls” who skate and mentioned Olympic champion Adelina Sotnikova and Julia Lipnitskaia along with several others.
One notable omission to her list of favorites — three-time world champion Mao Asada.
When I called her on this one, Mori was very honest.
“Surely Mao is a great skater, but not all fans love or like her.”
But it was not only name skaters that Mori came up with. In her many travels she has located some promising prospects that even Ice Time has not yet heard of. These include collegiate skaters Keisuke Kodaira from Nagano and Yamanashi’s Yuka Toyama.
After following skating for so many years, it seemed certain that Mori would have befriended some of the skaters. That is indeed the case.
“I’m in touch with some skaters via Facebook, VK, Instagram and so on,” she commented. “But consistently I’m just one of their fans. I want to keep it that way.”
Mori has a full slate of events planned for the rest of this season, including the Finlandia Trophy, Cup of China (Shanghai), Cup of Russia (Moscow), NHK Trophy (Osaka), the combined Grand Prix Final (Barcelona, Spain), Four Continents (Seoul) and world championships (Shanghai), along with many smaller competitions.
When asked what she enjoyed most about watching skating, Mori stated, “Seeing a skater make it perfectly with all the difficult elements. It excites me so much!”
Mori then went on to identify Miki Ando’s incredible 2010-11 campaign (where she beat Yuna Kim to win the world title and lost only one competition the entire season), as an example.
“She was so strong that season,” recalled Mori. “In free skating, her only apparent mistake was stepping out of a double axel at the worlds. The Greek piano sounds set out her huge jumps.”
Mori added, “Skaters fill me with a great mood, like alcohol. This includes pairs and ice dance performances.”
When Ice Time inquired about some of the folks she has met in her travels overseas, Mori didn’t hold back.
“I’ve met so many nice people in Europe!” she recalled. “European fans are very good at supporting skaters — warm but also compliant.”
Mori also pointed out that some skating fans abroad can be quite harsh.
“Not all Russians in the venues understand figure skating,” she said. “They often crush Russian skaters with their hopes and pressure. On the other hand, they are too cold to their rivals.
“It’s a crazy atmosphere by foreign people. I’m human, so it’s natural to be moved by emotions,” she added. “I do love the Russian reactions. Their applause is very short.”
Going to all of these events requires not only time, energy and money, but preparation as well. The cycle seems to be never-ending.
Mori noted on her Facebook page last week: “I got my visa for the Cup of Russia!”