For the second year in a row three skaters who are mentored by the same coach will be representing Japan at this week’s Grand Prix Final in Marseille, France.
Two-time national champion Satoko Miyahara, reigning world junior champion Marin Honda and rising star Rika Kihira will all make the journey along with coach Mie Hamada from the Kansai University Figure Skating Club.
Last year it was Miyahara, Honda and Yuna Shiraiwa in Barcelona, Spain, where Miyahara captured the silver medal in the senior ranks and Honda the bronze in the juniors.
Hamada has been around for a long time, but only in the past few years has she received the recognition she deserves. The 57-year-old Kyoto native first gained attention when she led Yukina Ota to the world junior title back in 2003. However injuries unfortunately forced Ota into an early retirement.
Miyahara emerged as a force two seasons ago when she won her first national crown and earned the silver medal at the world championships. Then along came the juniors and many have been admiring Hamada’s work ever since.
Ice Time was able to speak with the successful coach and quiz her about the “Hamada Method” during the recent NHK Trophy in Sapporo and she had some interesting comments on her philosophy for coaching and those who have influenced her.
I asked Hamada, who once placed 10th at the Japan nationals during her skating days, what she considered the most important trait in bringing up young skaters.
“First is discipline,” she commented. “This is an individual sport. So many skaters are selfish. They can skip the session if they don’t want to skate. If it is a team sport — like with a goalkeeper — if he doesn’t want to be there, he can’t do that.”
Hamada, a graduate of Kyoto’s Doshisha University, said that she tries to get her charges to conform and put aside any self-centered feelings.
“Individuality (makes it) very difficult to go against their nature,” she stated. “I try to get them not to do this. I’m very strict. They have to hear the opinion, the goals.”
Hamada then cited something that is an issue not just in skating, but in all youth sports.
“Controlling the parents is also very important,” she said with a smile. “I’m reasonable, but it’s my way. My purpose is to make a good athlete. Not to hurry and just have fun.”
While some coaches deal with only elite students, Hamada’s love of coaching sees her instructing a much broader age range of skaters.
“Currently my youngest skater is 4 years old,” she noted. “My oldest skater is 23.”
When it comes to setting achievement targets for the season, Hamada is more flexible.
“I let the individuals decide,” she said. “Because Marin is kind of easygoing. I don’t want to push her too much because she is a very artistic skater. I just bring up her feelings.
“Yuna is very athletic. She likes to jump,” Hamada stated. “I try to find out what is the good point for each of them. I do each in a different way.”
Ice Time asked Hamada straight up which one of her group of more than 30 skaters was the most naturally talented.
“Marin,” Hamada replied without hesitation.
Hamada then mentioned Shiraiwa’s strong points.
“Yuna is tough and has a good combination,” Hamada said. “She can do a triple-triple-triple. Yuna did well at the juniors. Her program was made by (choreographer) Tom Dixon, who is American.”
Hamada then spoke about Kihira, the wunderkind who this season became the first junior to land a triple axel in competition since Mao Asada 10 years earlier.
“Rika has the triple axel,” Hamada said. “She is under a lot of pressure because she can do the triple axel and triple axel/triple toe (combination).”
Kihira strugged to an 11th place finish at the Japan Junior Championships last month after taking first and second in her two JGPs this season. Some blamed the poor showing on a knee injury, but Hamada debunked this notion.
When I inquired if Kihira was struggling with the knee injury, Hamada gave a firm response.
“No. No,” she said. “The injury is not serious.”
What are Hamada’s hopes for results at the JGP Final for her junior skaters?
“I would like to see Rika land the triple axel/triple toe,” Hamada stated. “Marin was third last year, so I would like to see her win this year.”
With Hamada’s success with young skaters it seemed only natural to inquire if she had been approached by parents from overseas about taking on teaching their children.
“Yes, I have had offers from parents from many countries to train their kids, but my rink is very strict about that,” Hamada said, referring to her home rink at Kansai University in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture.
“Because my rink is involved with the university, we have to consider that,” Hamada commented. “So it is difficult for me to take the foreign skaters.”
This is a real pity. With Hamada’s stature, she should be able to impart her wisdom to anyone willing to move and train in Japan.
For years the conventional thinking has been that Japanese skaters have to train overseas to be able to excel on the world stage. Almost all of the most decorated skaters have gone abroad to receive coaching including Yuzuru Hanyu, Daisuke Takahashi, Shizuka Arakawa, Mao, Miki Ando and many others.
Miyahara is one of the few who have not trained overseas.
As far as coaches Hamada admires, she listed three.
“My coach was American — Dorian Specht — who taught Peggy Fleming,” said Hamada, who trained for a year in Culver City, California, when she was a skater. “She helped me a lot.”
Of her coaching contemporaries, Hamada identified two.
“I appreciate Mr. (Nobuo) Sato and Viktor Kudriavtsev, he is a Russian coach,” she said.
GP Final lineups: Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno will take on a field that includes defending two-time world champion Javier Fernandez, three-time world champion Patrick Chan and Americans Nathan Chen and Adam Rippon at the Palais Omnisports Marseille beginning on Thursday.
Miyahara will be in competition with the Russian quartet of world champion Evgenia Medvedeva, Anna Pogorilaya, Elena Radionova and Maria Sotskova, as well as Canada’s Kaetlyn Osmond.
Honda and Kihira will be joined by Japan junior champion Kaori Sakamoto in a battle against the Russian trio of Anastasiia Gubanova, Alina Zagitova and Elizaveta Nugumanova.
Japan has no skaters in the junior men’s event.
McLaren Report, Part II: The second installment of the McLaren Report, the investigation by Prof. Richard McLaren, a Canadian attorney, for the World Anti-Doping Agency, that revealed the massive scale of doping by the Russians at the Sochi Olympics and in years before will be released on Friday.
The results of the initial McLaren Report led to the entire Russian track team being banned from the Rio Olympics in an unprecedented move by the IOC. It is going to be very interesting to see what comes of the second version of the probe, which has promised to name names.
The whistle blower on the Russian scheme was Dr. Grigory Rodchenkov, the former director of the country’s anti-doping lab, who told the New York Times in an interview that “at least 15 medal winners were part of a state-run doping program . . .”
The Times article said the doping “involved some of Russia’s biggest stars of the Games . . .”
Russia won the gold medal in the inaugural skating team competition in Sochi, and Adelina Sotnikova took the gold in controversial fashion over Yuna Kim in the women’s singles.
The Russians also claimed the gold and silver in pairs and the bronze in ice dance.
To this point no skaters have been implicated in the Sochi doping scandal, but we will see what the second McLaren Report has to say.