“I’m a coach, not a neighbor’s aunt.” Translation of an article about Mie Hamada

Posted on 2022-12-19 • No comments yet


Translation of the article about Japanese coach Mie Hamada mada published in Russian media.

photo by Atsushi Tomura / ISU Facebook account

source: sports.ru by Nipponica blog

While Russia is suspended, new leaders and trends in figure skating (and elsewhere) have emerged.

This is noticeable, for example, in the Junior Grand Prix, where the season is dominated by Japanese women: 5 out of 6 stage victories, 2 silvers, and 2 bronzes. In terms of the number of medals, the result is better than that of other countries combined.

The main creators of success are the girls with triple axels, Mao Shimada and Hana Yoshida. Both qualified for the Final with the best number of points (Mao won, however, Hana was only 6th), but that’s not the only thing they have in common.

The girls represent Kinoshita Academy, where they train with 63-year-old Mie Hamada. Her name is well known in the figure world but hardly goes beyond it. But thanks to the victories of her students, she is often called the “Japanese Tutberidze.”

In recent years, Hamada has developed a controversial reputation due to excellent results and,  at the same time, difficult relationships with athletes. What is the peculiarity of her methods, and which of her colleagues (including Russian ones) does she single out?

Hamada first attracted attention in 2003, when her student Yukina Ota won the Junior Worlds. At that time, it was believed that, for the sake of serious results, the Japanese must definitely train abroad.

This was most likely insufficient for Hamada in the early stages of her skating career. She failed to become a prominent figure skater (best result: 10th place at Nationals), so after her sports career, she thought about coaching.

Much was determined by the period of life in the United States, where she ended up as a student. The conditions for training in the States were shocking in a good way. There, Hamada realized what she could have achieved as an athlete if she had immediately found herself in the right environment. In 1982, she returned to Kyoto from an American tour and decided that she should share her experience with future students.

“Japan seems to be leading the way now, but at that time it was probably a lagging country,” Hamada told Yahoo Sports. – “One of the memories of the United States is connected with the moment when I came to the rink. I was almost seized by an inferiority complex. Still, the difference was noticeable.

Now the complexes, most likely, no longer pursue Hamada. In Kinoshita Academy, she plays a key role: she not only coaches but also holds the post of general manager. She says that she enjoys working with both seniors and juniors, but especially loves working with children and watching their progress from their first steps. And in general, Hamada often speaks of her students almost like a mother, and also seeks to instill in them a love for figure skating.

However, the path to this love is paved with strict dictatorship in training. Hamada is an adherent of a strict discipline, which she calls the most important aspect of working with young skaters (and, it seems, with their parents).

“It’s an individual sport, and a lot of skaters are selfish. They may not go to practice if they don’t want to skate. I am very strict. Skaters should listen to opinions and goals,” she told The Japan Times. – “It is also extremely important to control the parents. In my approach, I act rationally, and my goal is to raise a good athlete.”

Hamada alternates toughness with softness but still does not scatter compliments. Here are some more excerpts from her coaching methodology:

• “In my opinion, students grow only when they are praised sincerely. If you constantly tell them, “You are good” or “You are capable,” compliments will become commonplace. And if you were able to master difficult jumps and steps that you could not learn before, then the student, after receiving praise, will experience a sense of accomplishment. I can’t lie, so if someone fails, I’ll say it straight. Even when small children treat training carelessly, I get very angry.”

• “First of all, accept what they are trying to teach you, what they point to, and try to fulfill it.”

• “A child who immediately begins to say “but” does not progress at all. I want them to learn patience while they skate. Many children fail to show restraint; the same goes for their mothers.

  • “Figure skating looks charming, but it’s actually a contest of endurance. The approach to learning is rigorous from the very beginning. I expect students to think about having fun when they achieve something. Some people can teach with a smile and have fun, even if they make mistakes and fail to learn. But this [fun] seems useless to me.”

The moment in one of the TV clips is indicative, where Satoko Miyahara, one of Hamada’s star students, half-jokingly, half-seriously answered that she did not even know how to react to the coach’s praise because this is such a rare occurrence.

In the same footage, Hamada (due to her strict approach) is described as a person who is sometimes “possessed by a demon” on ice. And, while she appears to be overly nice and calm in all interviews, she is not always willing to put up with objections on the ice.

“People often call for a personal point of view,” Hamada said. “It’s good if you have already gained experience and formed an opinion, but a child who expresses it from the very beginning will not become stronger. This applies not only to figure skating.”

It is not easy for even reputable skaters to get along in such conditions. In 2019, Nobunari Oda (Junior World Champion, National Champion) filed a lawsuit against Hamada, accusing her of emotional abuse. The official wording is “moral harassment,” for which Oda demanded 11 million yen.

At that time, Oda was already a colleague of Hamada; they worked at the Kansai University Ice Club, where there are more than 40 sports departments, mainly for Olympic sports.

The conflict escalated: according to Oda, at first Hamada began to greet him less often, then gradually switched to insults and rudely ignored his work offers. Everything led to the fact that, due to severe stress, he even sought the help of doctors.

“The truth is that at the rink I was under pressure, namely moral pressure. This affected my health, and for three months I could not appear on the ice at all,” Oda wrote in a blog. “During this time, I have not received any sincere answer from the university. I only asked for a good atmosphere to return, but no action was taken.”

Trying to resolve the conflict before the trial, Oda, in the presence of a lawyer, negotiated with representatives of the university. They promised to start an investigation and report the results, but in the end, the skater did not get any response, lost confidence in the administration, and left the club.

The plot developed approximately like the case of Elizaveta Nugumanova: the university later explained that their internal commission had interviewed possible defendants, but did not reveal any violations. It’s odd that the university explained Oda’s resignation (even before the trial) as a lack of time for him to work, but after the scandal became public, they issued a new statement about “training differences.”

One of them, as Oda himself explained, concerned dangerous training: allegedly, Hamada, ignoring the rules, allowed more skaters to practice on the ice than expected (it was about the “eight” exercise, which was performed by five people on the rink, although according to the rules, a maximum of three are allowed).

There was even talk behind the scenes that Hamada was also using physical force on students: for example, at one of the training sessions, she allegedly grabbed Miyahara by the hair and threw her onto the ice.

It can be assumed that the trial has not yet ended (in any case, there have been no new introductions in the media since last year). Hamada pleaded not guilty to the allegations and even filed a counterclaim for defamation. But it seems that she nevertheless agreed with Oda on one of the points: “Perhaps there were cases when I forgot to say hello.”

There is also a more prosaic version: the Kansai coaching groups (the first headed by Hamada, the second by Takeshi Honda and Utako Nagamitsu, and the third by Noriko Oda, Nobunari’s mother) simply did not share power at the rink.

Whether this is true or not cannot be said with certainty, but in 2020, Hamada moved to a new school created under the wing of the Kinoshita Group, where she now trains.

The topic of transfers is generally relevant for Hamada and, in particular, for her students. Lately, Mie has been parting with class skaters almost every year. Here are some examples.

In 2018, the world junior champion Marin Honda went to Rafael Harutyunyan; according to one version, due to intense training, her relationship with Hamada could worsen. But, whatever the real reason, Honda’s results dipped: last season, she didn’t even compete at the Grand Prix and finished only 21st at the Japanese Nationals.

In 2019, Satoko Miyahara, a two-time Worlds medalist, moved to Lee Barkell (an interesting detail: Nobunari Oda once trained with him). Having moved to Toronto, the Japanese still continued (formally) to cooperate with Hamada, whose name, however, disappeared from the list of coaches on the ISU website a year later.

This transfer also did not bring success: Miyahara did not return to the previous level, and after the Beijing Olympics (which she did not qualify for), she retired.

Rika Kihira followed a similar scenario: in 2020, she also went to Toronto, but to Brian Orser (by the way, unlike Honda and Miyahara, she has not officially stopped working with Hamada until now).

Rika was ambitious; she wanted to learn new elements and perform at the Games: “I decided on this with the confidence that I could progress on the eve of the Beijing Olympics. I want to learn new spins and combinations of steps and jumps. To win there, I need to be better than the Russian figure skaters,” Kihira said after missing the national selection due to injury.

The last transfer (not so loud but still noticeable) happened in April 2022: the winner of the Grand Prix stages and participant in the 2022 Olympic Games, Mana Kawabe, decided to train with Mihoko Higuchi. But here the conclusions will already appear at a greater distance.

Hamada is treated differently. On the Japanese Internet, she is sometimes called “crusher”, emphasizing her toughness and exactingness. She herself once, as if defending this style, described herself with the phrase “I’m a coach, not a neighbor’s aunt.”

Her skill, of course, was formed under the influence of other colleagues. Hamada works with many specialists both at home and abroad, but speaks highly of only a few. Among them are Nobuo Sato and Viktor Kudryavtsev.

Now a prominent role in Hamada’s team is played by the Korean figure skater You Yong and the already mentioned juniors Shimada, Yoshida, as well as Ayumi Shibayama, listed for the Grand Prix Final as a substitute. At the same time, despite the obvious successes of the young students, Hamada’s views on figure skating are similar to the conditional “mature women’s skating” approach.

• “I hope those who are 18 will win. Because we want to see women in senior skating, not girls, don’t you think? A figure skater who has a story, not just jumps.”

• “There are athletes who can jump the triple axel but can’t win. Axel is the first thing people talk about, but without all-round development, you won’t be able to go any further. In expression through music, movements, and other details, sophistication and beauty are manifested.

Otherwise, Hamada’s philosophy is likely driven by family history. Her mother survived the atomic bombing of Hiroshima at the age of 11 (and her aunt died there at 13). In 2018, when the city hosted the NHK Trophy, Hamada experienced strong emotions and expressed them in an important piece of advice to Kihira and Miyahara who participated in that tournament.

“The whole city rose from the ashes and rose to its feet on its own. The people of Hiroshima were not to blame for anything and returned to normal life without blaming others. You also should not shift the responsibility to someone else.

In any case, I was brought up that way, my mother often said that no one had a reason to complain. We are now blessed with talent and opportunity, and I want you to make the most of it. “We were born in a world where we can do whatever we want, so let us do our best for this,” Hamada said during her NHK Trophy speech, adding a moral at the end. “Value rivalry, not hostility.”


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