Fame has come late for Ayaka Hosoda, but she acknowledges that is better than it never having come at all.
The Kansai University student grabbed the headlines at the Japan Championships in December by landing three triple axels at the age of 23 while competing against the nation’s biggest stars. So great was her impact that one of her coaches, Yamato Tamura, referred to her as “the MVP of this event” despite her finishing eighth.
Not many who were there and witnessed Hosoda’s performance disputed that proclamation.
“I really didn’t feel like I was a star,” Hosoda recently told Ice Time in an exclusive interview. “I just woke up as usual the next morning and went to support the men’s free skating. I went shopping with my mom before I went to arena.”
Becoming an overnight sensation presents challenges. In the immediate aftermath of her stunning showing, Hosoda was asked about her future and whether she would continue skating.
The native of Osaka Prefecture’s Suita City politely said “no comment” to the media throng after her free skate. Hosoda told me that she had considered retiring following her short program to “Scent of a Woman” at the nationals.
“I felt it was enough at that time. After the short program, I was thinking about totally retiring,” Hosoda stated. “But the very next day, it was like, ‘Wait a minute. I did it now. And it’s a bit late (to retire).’ I was amazed at myself.”
After landing two more triple axels in her free skate to “Sunset Boulevard,” Hosoda started feeling differently.
“I just felt like I had done everything I could. Last year when I tried to land the triple axel at competitions, I could not land any,” Hosoda recalled. “So I was just glad I kept skating for one more year. I felt mixed emotions and the performance moved me.”
When Ice Time initially asked Hosoda if she would continue competing after this season, she gave a measured response.
“I haven’t thought about it yet because the last competition, the Winter Festival (where she came in fourth), had just finished,” Hosoda commented. “In my whole career I always thought that I would keep skating until the point where I left with no regrets at all and I didn’t see that point yet, at least at the Winter Festival. I will just take a rest and think about whether or not I have any regrets.”
However, after further prodding later in the interview, Hosoda revealed exclusively just what would bring her back next season.
“I’m willing to keep skating if the Japan Skating Federation gives me assignments to international competition,” Hosoda declared.
To earn international assignments from the JSF, Hosoda would have to be designated as a “Special Selection Athlete” for the 2019-20 season by the governing body. The JSF has three levels for the category — a top level, then “A” and “B” classifications.
Based on her performance and achievement at nationals, it seems almost academic that she will receive the special designation.
Hosoda, who cites world champion Nathan Chen and Sochi Olympic bronze medalist Carolina Kostner as current skaters she admires, seemed surprised when informed that there had been much interest in her from the skating community outside of Japan after the nationals.
“I’m glad to hear that. I was at nationals with a completely different position from Satoko (Miyahara) or Rika (Kihira), so I was just happy for the result I got,” Hosoda commented.
Beginning of a long career
Hosoda, an only child, traced the catalyst for her interest in skating to a visit to a rink as a young child.
“I was 7 years old when I went to the skate rink for the first time with my mom just for fun,” Hosoda said. “I started training when I was 8 years old. The first time I entered the rink I was afraid to skate, but somehow it stuck in my mind and after a while I joined the team.”
Hosoda, who turned 24 this month, cited one of the sport’s true legends as an early inspiration.
“Daisuke Takahashi was a skater I looked up to when I began skating, because we have been teammates since I was 8,” Hosoda said. “I trained under coach Utako Nagamitsu since I was 8 and changed to coach Mie Hamada when I was in the first year of high school.”
Struggle with results
I wanted to know what she credited the uptick in her career to at an advanced age.
“I’m not sure. My highlight is when I was in my first year of junior high, when I learned many kinds of jumps,” Hosoda remarked. “But at the same time, I was an early teen, so it was a very difficult age. I love skating and training, and the reason I can do it now is because I have kept doing it.”
Before this season, Hosoda had never placed higher than 15th in six previous appearances at the Japan Championships. She did, however, win the Kinki regionals five years ago.
I inquired as to what happened after that and why her career flatlined.
“One reason I could not keep my form after that victory was due to gaining weight, and another was due to my lack of awareness as an athlete,” Hosoda reflected. “But on the other hand, I loved skating and wanted to keep skating.”
Motivated by Kihira
Hosoda told Ice Time that she seriously considered quitting skating back in 2015.
“Before my last competition in 2015, I decided to retire,” Hosoda said. “Rika told me, ‘I want to train the triple axel with you.’ But I had to go to the last event at the time, so I promised her I would do it with her after the event. Afterward I went to the rink to fulfill my promise and trained with her for several months. Then I just landed a triple axel and I was like, ‘Oh, I did it!’ ”
I pointed out the irony of the younger person in the senpai-kohai equation encouraging the older one.
“I wasn’t really concerned about it,” Hosoda said. “I don’t have fear of trying jumps, so I thought it would be good if it motivated her (Rika) to train with me.”
When questioned about the secret to landing the difficult 3½-rotation jump, Hosoda noted that she and the Grand Prix Final champion both have their own variations.
“My triple axel and Rika’s are completely different,” Hosoda stated. “Mine comes from power and Rika’s is based on traditional technique. The key is to just jump with your full power.”
Being a competitive skater for so long has brought benefits beyond results to Hosoda. She and her fellow Team Hamada skaters traveled to Switzerland last summer to train with Stephane Lambiel at his base in Champery.
Hosoda was moved by watching the two-time world champion and 2006 Olympic silver medalist skate and instruct.
“I learned so many things, and I am a fan of Stephane, so it was a great experience,” Hosoda recalled. “During the camp he showed the combination spin which he did at his last Olympics, and I was crying watching it. We were training like it was a trial competition, so it was a great camp to lead to real competitions.”
Another incredible moment for Hosoda also came last summer at her home rink when the likes of David Wilson, Jeffrey Buttle and Lambiel were all on the ice choreographing at the same time.
“Even though they have retired already, they change the world just standing on the ice,” Hosoda commented. “I want to be like them. They have an aura. They are skaters who can make people feel the words.”
While many Japanese skaters have moved abroad to train, Hosoda claimed she has never seriously considered joining them.
“When I moved from Coach Nagamitsu to Coach Hamada, I decided to study under her for a long time, so I didn’t look at going overseas,” Hosoda said.
Hosoda believes she will remain around the sport even when her days of competing do come to an end.
“I’m willing to be a coach, but rather than that I want to be a person who connects Coach Hamada to other young skaters,” Hosoda declared. “I don’t think that feeling will change in the future.”
Hosoda helped coach Hamada’s junior high skaters at a competition in Nagano earlier this month, on her way back from the Winter Festival in Hokkaido.
It appears that nothing will ever keep Hosoda from her affection for being on the ice.
“I love training, so even if I retire as a competitor, I would still go to the rink,” Hosoda stated.