Rinka Watanabe: “There are times when I wonder if I’m good enough, but standing on the ice at competitions I’m proud to be able to see the scenery that I saw from the outside nine years ago.”
Article and small interview with Rinka Watanabe ahead of World Championships. Reasons for a breakthrough season and overcoming challenges.
source: jbpress.ismedia.jp dd. 9 March 2023 by Takaomi Matsubara
First-ever Grand Prix series victory
Can you imagine the change that has occurred for Rika Watanabe this season, after spending last season?
Watanabe, who is 20 years old now, finished 6th at the Japanese Nationals last season with a successfaully landed triple axel, a result that greatly surpassed her previous best of 18th place achieved in three prior appearances.
She was also selected as a representative for the World Junior Championships, finishing in 10th place.
Entering this season, it was a year to build on the gains made in the previous season, and to use international competitions as well as her previous experience as a junior, as a springboard to participate in the Grand Prix series, which she had never done before.
That opportunity suddenly came.
Watanabe, who participated in the Lombardia Trophy held in mid-September, started with a 2nd place in the short program and then delivered a great performance in the free skate. She succeeded in landing a triple axel at the beginning of the program, which was the first time at an international competition. Despite some minor mistakes, she successfully landed all of her combinations and won the event.
That changed the tide.
Wakaba Higuchi, who was to represent Japan at the Beijing Olympics, announced that she would be taking a break this season, which also meant she would be absent from the Grand Prix series. That’s where the opportunity came to Watanabe, to compete in the NHK Trophy in November, which was the fifth stage of the Grand Prix series.
“There are times when I wonder if I’m good enough, but I am proud to be able to see the scenery that I saw from the outside nine years ago, and I want to do my best to show my best performance,” she said.
“Nine years ago” refers to her participation in the exhibition at the NHK Trophy during her novice days. This time, she was looking forward to participating in the competition as a contestant, and her smile showed how much she was enjoying the opportunity to finally compete in the Grand Prix series.
After the press conference ended, she was given the chance to compete in the second stage of the Grand Prix in Skate Canada.
At her first-ever Grand Prix series, Watanabe surprised the world by winning the event in a comeback victory at the end of October in Skate Canada. After finishing 6th in the short program, she successfully landed a triple axel in a free program, following her win at the Lombardia Trophy, and made a comeback to win the event.
At the NHK Trophy, she started with finishing 9th in the short program, but she made a comeback in the free skate and finished in 5th place. As a result, she secured her spot in the Grand Prix Final.
At the Grand Prix Final in Turin, Italy, she didn’t deliver a flawless performance, but came close to the podium with a 4th place finish.
At the end of last year, at the Japanese Nationals, she felt the pressure and struggled with the short program, finishing in 18th place. Although she made a comeback in the free skate, she ultimately finished in 12th place. However, due to her success in the Grand Prix series, she was selected for the World Championships. Looking back, she had a season of impressive momentum, which was the result of overcoming difficulties and moving forward.
During her novice years, Rinka Watanabe gained attention by winning the Novice B division at the Japanese Novice Figure Skating Championships, but then went through a difficult period. Although she competed in the Japanese Novice Championships and the Japanese Junior Championships by recommendation after becoming a Novice A skater, she was unable to break through to the next level. Prior to the start of the 2016-2017 season, she developed a cartilage detachment in her knee, which required surgery. Afterward, she transferred to a new junior high school and went to Canada.
In the 2017-2018 season, during her third year of junior high school, Watanabe placed fifth at the Japanese Junior Championships and made her debut at the Japanese Championships. She slowly made progress, but was forced to return to Japan due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
In the midst of the unstable environment, she met her new coach, Kensuke Nakaniwa. Having a new coach and training environment undoubtedly had a big impact, but she also had been diligently searching and moving forward during her difficult times, and the signs of her development began to show in the previous season and continued to progress this season.
In February, she competed at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships, held at an altitude of 1800m in Colorado Springs, USA. Despite struggling with the thin air, she placed fifth.
“I think I was able to get closer to the performance that satisfies me to some extent. Being able to perform at an unusual altitude of 1,800 meters is another big achievement that leads to confidence,” said Rinka Watanabe.
She is now preparing for the World Championships, which she sees as the highest stage besides the Olympics. “I want to see how far I can go and perform my best,” she said.
She is looking forward to her first performance on this stage.
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