• Kyodo

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Mone Chiba is a 16-year-old figure skater providing hope for her hometown Sendai, which has given birth to two of the sport’s biggest stars, Olympic gold medalists Yuzuru Hanyu and Shizuka Arakawa.

Chiba qualified for the four-day national championships at Saitama Super Arena beginning Thursday via last month’s junior nationals, where she finished third in the women’s singles.

The Tohoku High School student grew up idolizing Hanyu and had several opportunities to interact with her childhood hero at their home rink in Sendai in northeastern Japan, playing tag and playing around on the ice after practice.

“He used to be like a big brother and a playmate,” she said of the two-time Olympic and world champion who later moved his base to Canada.

Figure skater Mone Chiba practices at Ice Rink Sendai in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on Dec. 15. | KYODO
Figure skater Mone Chiba practices at Ice Rink Sendai in Sendai, Miyagi Prefecture, on Dec. 15. | KYODO

Today, she says, Hanyu is a “godlike presence.” But rather than admiring him from afar, Chiba is hoping to follow in his footsteps and one day match his level of global stardom, setting her sights on the 2026 Winter Olympics in Italy’s Milan and Cortina D’Ampezzo.

Chiba is a dedicated athlete who devotes all her time to skating. When she is not laced up and gliding across ice, even for a day, she says she misses the glassy surface.

Last season, she was vexed by under-rotating her jumps, but her coach Soshi Tanaka, who has also helped Hanyu with his jumps, taught her how to convert the energy from her skating into rotation in her jumps, and that has made all the difference.

At the Nov. 19 to 21 junior nationals, Chiba took the final podium spot by landing a clean jump in her free skate after battling back from seventh place in the short program. The third place was her first podium finish result at the nationals.

Chiba is now working on mastering a quadruple toe loop, with four rotations in the air. But first, she is preparing to make a name for herself at the senior nationals this week.

“I want to give my performance everything I’ve got,” she said.

The national championships, which also serve as trials for the 2022 Beijing Olympics, begin Thursday afternoon with the rhythm dance, followed by the women’s short program. The women’s free skate will be held on Saturday

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