Kazuki Tomono: “I wanted a program that isn’t instantly praised from the start but one that I can finish and in the end grow as a skater through this program.”
Big interview with Kazuki Tomono for non-no. About 2022/23 season, new programs and goals for 2023/24 season.
It’s been a long season. How would you describe the 2022-23 season for you, Tomono-san?
Kazuki Tomono: If I were to put it in one word, it would be “growth.” Not only in terms of technical aspects, but mainly in terms of the results. I feel like I was able to fully show my abilities at the World Championships, and I saw the possibility of winning a medal. Despite some mistakes, I was able to achieve such high scores, and it made me realize that the only goal left is to aim for a medal. I felt that I had progressed even further from the previous season and could see the next stage. I want to climb even higher next time. It was a season where I strongly felt that desire.
The previous 2021-22 season was described as a “roller coaster-like season.” Did you have a different mindset since you had set your sights on the World Championships?
Kazuki Tomono: Yes, that’s right. The 2021-22 season felt like riding a roller coaster, as I participated in competitions as a substitute at the last minute. But in the previous season, I had a straightforward focus on the World Championships.
However, it doesn’t mean that I was emotionally calm throughout the season. It was tough, to be honest. It was the first time that I had kept preparing until the very end of the season, and I had to maintain my focus all the way until March, which was honestly challenging. I think I managed to run well relying on my past experiences and adjusting along the way.
I felt a sudden increase in pace in the second half of the season. I remember during the interview for this magazine, when I asked about the target score and asked to review the completed pages a month later, you said, “Can you increase the target score by 10 points?” That really stuck in my memory.
Kazuki Tomono: Yes, that’s right. I felt like I could do it. After the Nationals, my condition improved rapidly, and I gained confidence. It was a period where I felt like I had grasped something. It was the timing when I finally obtained the sensation I wanted.
Looking back, the early part of the season was quite challenging, but in hindsight, it was good that I was able to make a final sprint toward the World Championships.
However, if I were to do the same thing this season, I don’t think I could make it to the national team. Last year had some miraculous elements, and I can sense that other athletes are in excellent form.
I am (almost) the oldest among the Japanese men’s singles skaters, but I want to practice the hardest and do my best.
Please share your thoughts on the new short program you performed at the recent “Dream on Ice.”
Kazuki Tomono: To be honest, I didn’t have much confidence in the new program until just before “Dream on Ice.” I thought it was impossible to include jumps and steps at this stage… But performing in an ice show somehow gave me a sense of direction. It was really fortunate to have the show at this time.
It was a wonderful program. Is the chic black shirt your official costume?
Kazuki Tomono: The costume is still temporary. At first, I wasn’t sure what to wear and thought about just going with a plain T-shirt. But then I found that black shirt. It was an off-the-rack item, so the collar was quite big and the balance felt a bit off, but I’m glad I found something that fit. The official costume has recently been designed, and it will have a similar shirt style with some added color. It might not be ready in time for “THE ICE,” so please wait a little longer.
For this program, I wanted to focus more on showcasing myself rather than the costume, so the costume is extremely simple. As for choreography, I’m sure even by looking at the costume, you’ll feel like saying, “Oh, that’s Jeff (Jeffrey Buttle),” haha.
The theme of this short program is a “North American vibe.” I have always loved North American skating, and I admire skaters like Kurt Browning. Not only Canadian skating, but I also appreciate the controlled style of American skating. So this season, I want to incorporate that North American taste into my skating.
How about the free program choreographed by Misha Ge?
Kazuki Tomono: I feel more worried about the free program than the short program. That’s because the free program this time is a “super challenge” for me. It has a very quiet piano melody, and it’s going in a somewhat opposite direction from what I’m good at.
Last season’s theme was a “program that fully expresses your individuality.” This season seems to be the complete opposite.
Kazuki Tomono: Yes. It’s a program where the beauty of each position needs to be clearly shown, so I hope it leads to growth. It’s a challenging program, but somehow I feel like all the jumps are fitting in well, and I can finish it on a positive note. It really depends on me in the end! That’s why I’m excited. How I face this program and how I perform it is up to me.
Are you looking forward to challenging difficult things?
Kazuki Tomono: Yes. It’s always more enjoyable to challenge difficult things, isn’t it? It’s definitely better than playing it safe.
One of your strengths is that there is a way to raise your score by focusing on what you are good at.
Kazuki Tomono: I don’t really focus on scores right now. If I perform well, good scores will naturally come.
Lately, I’ve come to think that if I focus on myself and deliver the performance I want to show, the scores will follow naturally.
Of course, as I follow competitions, I also consider whether certain approaches would lead to higher scores, but fundamentally, I stick to expressing what I want and skating the way I want.
I believe that this program contains everything necessary for the kind of skating I want to do. This season is an important year for me to become the skater I aspire to be. And as a result, I hope I can grow.
When you say “the kind of skating you want to do,” what do you mean?
Kazuki Tomono: In my case, compared to other skaters, I believe I excel in creating momentum, setting the atmosphere, and appealing to the audience. However, I’m still not a skater who captivates with the beauty of positions and simple elements like skating.
So what I need right now is not to just go with the flow but to deliver a performance that is controlled down to the smallest details.
Of course, I don’t mean to abandon what I have developed so far or my own individuality. By adding something extra to my own uniqueness, I can become even stronger. That’s how I see it.
So the program is a challenge to complement what you need.
Kazuki Tomono: While the short program is presented naturally and smoothly, the free program is meticulously crafted, and I have to make it look even better along those lines. This is an area where I struggle because if the focus leans heavily towards jumps, I tend to neglect control and skating.
By making a difficult program that clearly reveals the weaknesses that have been ignored until now, you can face your weak points even if you don’t like it. Then you will do your best to improve. And when that happens, I become determined to overcome them no matter what. Because I have the pride of wanting to improve myself even just a little.
That’s why I’m working hard in practice every day, even though there are moments when I think, “I don’t want to see it.” I believe that this kind of mindset will be imposrant in the future.
When I look at Yuma (Kagiyama) or Kao-chan (Kaori Sakamoto), I have the impression that even though they have very challenging programs, they manage to complete them by the end of the season and create programs that help them grow.
Especially with Kao-chan, in the beginning of the previous season, it seemed really challenging, and I wondered if she would be okay. But in the end, she truly made it her own, and that’s really amazing.
So, I also want to create a program that isn’t instantly praised from the start but one that I can finish and step up at the very end. It may be difficult, but I hope you can support me through this challenge.
And Misha Ge feels the same way?
Kazuki Tomono: I told that from the beginning. Top skaters climb the next steps like that, and I also want to grow through my programs. So, I asked him to make this season’s program exceptionally challenging. I said, “I want to see Misha’s seriousness.” And then Misha responded with, “Leave it to me!” and completed this program.
If you say it like that, Misha can’t help but quit, right?
Kazuki Tomono: That’s true (laughs). There were other candidate songs, and I also made suggestions, but Misha was really pushing for “Halston,” so we decided on it.
Until now, I have been voicing my opinions freely, but this time, I want to value others’ perspectives for the sake of my own growth. It’s okay to trust the opinions of others.
So you left the choreography for both the short and free programs to the choreographers. When will the free program be revealed?
Kazuki Tomono: It will be at “THE ICE,” I think. I also hope to unveil the exhibition program choreographed by Cathy Reed at that time, so please look forward to it.
As you mentioned earlier, is the plan for this season to increase the pace from the beginning?
Kazuki Tomono: The goal is to go full throttle from the Grand Prix series. But actually, my jumps haven’t fully returned yet. After “Fantasy on Ice,” I experienced a sudden drop. It feels like they just disappeared (laughs). Maybe it’s because I’ve been focusing more on skating practice, and it has affected my body balance. But as a result, my skating has improved significantly. Since I know I’ll forcefully get into shape during the All-Japan training camp anyway, for now, I want to listen to my body and enjoy skating.
You have been assigned to Skate Canada and Cup of China for the Grand Prix series.
Kazuki Tomono: Yes, it was an unexpected assignment. I didn’t get what I wanted and everything turned out the opposite (laughs). I wanted to compete in NHK Trophy because it was held in my hometown, Osaka, and I was considering the schedule with NHK Trophy, hoping for France as the other event. But the result was Canada and China, and both are with Sota (Yamamoto). I was like, “Whoa, why? Should we perform in a pair?” (laughs).
Well, at this point, I feel like it doesn’t matter where we compete. In the end, Japanese men will be competing and blocking each other at all the events.
Sota is so consistent and troublesome, but we can’t achieve that level of perfection at this stage. It’s scary (laughs).
By the way, it’s been since the 2011 Asian Trophy that I last went to China. I remember that time we were together with Sota, and for some reason, both of us got stomachaches and locked ourselves in the bathroom (laughs).
I look forward to seeing both of you on the podium again. It really emphasizes the depth of talent in Japan, doesn’t it?
Kazuki Tomono: This year, Shun Sato is incredible. I always thought he had great skills, but now he has grasped the key to expressing himself, and he has improved immensely. He’s been one of the athletes I’ve been keeping an eye on every year, but this season, he’s the one I’m most intrigued by.
But all the Japanese men are truly amazing. Shoma Uno is so strong that everyone is striving to reach his level. I believe everyone is thinking that they have to give their all from the beginning of the season to have a chance at winning. I’m just so excited right now. Even during the recent Dream on Ice practice, there was a sense of tension among the members, like, “Wait, is this an official practice for the Japanese Nationals?” It’s strange, but it’s truly a great era, even though it’s challenging.
We can’t take our eyes off the success of the Japanese skaters this season either. What about your first competition, are you excited about it?
Kazuki Tomono: I might participate in the All-Osaka in August (2023 All-Osaka II Figure Skating Championships). I might also compete in other international events. Since the All-Osaka will only feature the free skate, I have the desire to show my short program somewhere else.
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