KOBE – It is rare for an athlete to make history the first time they embark on a new level in their career. Usually they settle in, bide their time, and work their way up.
But one aspiring Japanese skater has a different plan for the upcoming season.
Moa Iwano, a 13-year-old from Kobe, who finished second in the Japan Advanced Novice Championships last season, confirmed her plan for a date with destiny recently in an exclusive conversation with Ice Time.
Iwano told me that she will be including a quadruple salchow in her free skate during the coming season when she debuts in the junior ranks.
“I will be using the quad salchow in my free skate this season,” Iwano stated. “I have been landing it regularly in practice and have confidence to do it in competition.”
Iwano, who is 160 cm and weighs 43 kg, said the quad salchow will be a stand-alone jump and not done in combination with another.
Many in the skating world in recent months have wondered if the beginning of the quad age for female skaters is approaching. It appears the question has been answered with Iwano’s declaration.
Iwano, who led a Japanese sweep with her victory at the Bavarian Open in Oberstdorf, Germany, in February, will attempt to become the first female skater in nearly 15 years, and only the second ever, to land a quad in competition.
Miki Ando did it back in 2002 at the Junior Grand Prix Final in The Hague just days before her 15th birthday. Ando finished third at that event behind compatriot Yukina Ota and Italy’s Carolina Kostner.
Ando, who went on to become a two-time world champion, was clearly far ahead of her time, but was never able to successfully land the jump again in a career that lasted another 10 years. Now Iwano is ready to pick up the torch that has lain dormant for nearly a decade and a half.
When Ice Time interviewed Iwano in Sapporo last November following the All-Japan Junior Championships, she made it clear she was setting the bar high.
“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.”
Iwano’s free skate for the coming season will be choreographed by two-time Olympian Akiko Suzuki, who set up the youngster’s short program last season to “The Little Prince.”
In an email to Ice Time in December, Suzuki made it clear that she has a high regard for Iwano’s skills.
“I think she can make the Olympics in the future,” Suzuki wrote, referring to the 2022 Beijing Games, which will take place one month before Iwano turns 18.
I asked Iwano about the current crop of male skaters, and whose quads she liked the best.
“I really like Javier Fernandez’s quads,” she responded.
Iwano is coached by Utako Nagamitsu and former Olympian Takeshi Honda, and trains at the Kansai University rink in Takatsuki, Osaka Prefecture, with some of Japan’s top skaters.
Iwano practices for four hours, six days a week at the same venue as three-time Japan champion Satoko Miyahara, and rising stars Marin Honda, Yuna Shiraiwa and Rika Kihira, who are all coached by Mie Hamada.
When Ice Time first profiled Iwano back in December, I wrote about our serendipitous meeting on a subway platform in Sapporo.
During my recent meeting with Iwano and her mother Tomomi, they detailed a rather interesting interaction of their own many years ago.
When Moa was 7 or 8 years old, they told me, they were in the same elevator with a man at a train station in Kobe. The man looked at Moa and said, “Are you a skater or a ballerina? You look like one.”
Moa replied, “Yes I am. I’m a skater.”
The man in the elevator turned out to be the father of Nagamitsu, who would coach her years later. Talk about irony.
Moa will learn her Junior Grand Prix assignments following a test in front of Japan Skating Federation officials at Nagoya’s Chukyo University in the middle of June.
Whether at a warm-up event before the JGP season commences or her first JGP, Moa will unveil the quad salchow. If she hits it, a new era will begin.
Despite it being the offseason, May has a busy month for the Iwano family. Moa and her mother recently returned from a trip to Italy where Moa is having her new boots made for the coming season.
They were invited on all-expenses paid trip by Risport Skates, which is based in Venice, along with fellow skaters Akari Matsuoka, Rion Sumiyoshi and Takeru Kataise.
The five-day junket included a practice session and a gondola ride through the ancient city.
“We had a great time,” commented Moa. “They treated us very well and the process of how they will construct my boots was really interesting to see.”
Moa was actually first invited on the special trip last year but could not attend because it conflicted with her junior high school entrance ceremony.
Risport, which is part of the Rossignol Group, has made boots for numerous champions over the years including Mao Asada and Yuna Kim. The current roster of skaters wearing their boots includes Shoma Uno, Wakaba Higuchi and Honda.
Moa’s first name has brought inevitable comparisons to Mao, who was Japan’s novice champion during the 2002-03 and 2003-04 seasons. Switch one letter and they are the same.
Tomomi Iwano said that Nagamitsu occasionally mistakenly refers to her daughter as “Mao” during practice sessions. With Mao’s name having been so prominent for so long, that is understandable.
Tomomi is the epitome of a dedicated “skating mom.” Each day of training she drives Moa to and from the rink in neighboring Osaka Prefecture, a trip that normally takes an epic 1 hour and 40 minutes each way.
Moa and her mother reiterated that the young star will likely relocate overseas to work with a foreign coach following the 2017-18 season.
As we parted after our meeting, Ice Time told Moa and her mother that they had better brace themselves for the coming onslaught of media attention.
“If Moa lands a quad salchow at her first competition this coming season,” I said, “all hell is going to break loose.”
Curry honored: The late John Curry, the 1976 Olympic gold medalist, was recognized with a prestigious blue plaque, the Birmingham (England) Press reported last week.
A blue plaque is an oval sign installed in a public place in the United Kingdom to commemorate a link between that location and a famous person or event.
The Birmingham Civic Society gave the award in honor of Curry’s achievements. In a space of 40 days in 1976, Curry won the European, Olympic and world titles.
The idea was first proposed by actor and writer Tony Timberlake, the paper reported, who debuted a one-man play called “Looking For John” last year. The play is the latest instance of a much-deserved renewed interest in Curry’s career.
In 2015, a book on Curry’s life, “Alone: The Triumph and Tragedy of John Curry,” was released. Written by Bill Jones, the tome is an extraordinary piece of work and is highly recommended.
Curry was a true artist at a time when male skaters were discouraged from doing anything much beyond jumps and spins. Fellow Olympic gold medalist and world titlist Yuzuru Hanyu has been favorably compared to Curry in the past.
After Hanyu set a world record at the 2015 Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, Spain, the Guardian’s Richard Williams likened it to the magical night when Curry won the Olympic gold in Innsbruck, Austria.
“. . . Hanyu unfurled a long program that fulfilled all the promises Curry had ever made about the potential of his sport to attain the condition of art,” wrote Williams.
“The swiftness, the flow and the precision of the Japanese champion’s movements, in a program containing three quadruple jumps and seven triples, had the same effect on his audience as the Englishman’s game-changing displays of grace, poise and exquisite line,” Williams wrote. “And for both men, the beauty of their performance provided an elegant cloak to hide all the countless hours of hard work that had gone into the creation of such supreme athletic prowess.”
It’s a pity that Curry, who died in 1994, is not around to see Hanyu’s skating. He would have loved what the majestic Hanyu has done for his sport.
If Curry only could see Hanyu hydro-blading, doing Biellmann spins and Ina Bauers, not to mention the quads, I have no doubt he would say, “Bravo, Yuzu. Bravo.”