“When I looked back, I saw my coach…and I ran away” Reporters burst out laughing at the “smoothie racing incident” – article about Kaori Sakamoto

Posted on 2023-09-22 • No comments yet


Translation of an article about Kaori Sakamoto.

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A post shared by Team Kaori Sakamoto (@teamkaori_sakamoto)

source: 47news.jp dd. 21si September 2023

There might not be a more approachable reigning world champion. Kaori Sakamoto who is currently the two-time reigning world champion in figure skating, has not only outstanding athletic achievements but also exceptional conversational and commentating skills. Her interviews are always filled with humorous anecdotes that reveal her charming candidness. Loved by fans, fellow athletes, coaches, and the media alike, this 23-year-old skater from Kansai is a beloved figure in the skating world.

On August 13th, while Typhoon No. 7 was approaching the Japanese archipelago, I attempted to strike up a conversation with Sakamoto as she prepared for her first competition of the season at the Kinoshita Kansai Ice Arena in Otsu City. Some athletes tend to keep their distance from the press and avoid non-sporting topics, but Sakamoto was different. The topic of discussion that day was Yuzuru Hanyu’s marriage, news that had not only shocked the figure skating world but also reverberated throughout Japan and the world.

When the journalist brought up the news, Sakamoto’s eyes widened, and her tone grew more animated as she said, ‘I was so surprised. I didn’t know anything about it.’ On the evening of August 4th, when Hanyu announced on his official social media accounts that he’s getting married, Sakamoto had just finished her performance at the ice show ‘THE ICE’ in Morioka City and was on her way back to her hometown, Kobe. As she glanced at her smartphone, she was greeted with this unexpected news. She said, ‘I had already arrived near my home, but I was so excited that I couldn’t move. I kept asking, ‘Who? Who?’

Prohibited Smoothie Purchase Discovered, a Desperate Escape, and a Wholehearted Performance

At the competition venue, she readily poses for photos with children and waves to familiar reporters. She passionately discusses her sport and the seriousness with which she approaches it, but at the same time, she occasionally peppers her conversations with jokes and doesn’t hesitate to share humorous anecdotes, leaving everyone in stitches. One such heartwarming and laugh-inducing story from Sakamoto’s talk was the “Smoothie” incident.

The time was January 2018. Sakamoto was in Taiwan for her participation in the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships. Just one month later, she was on the cusp of her first major event, the Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. Her coach, Nakano Sonoko, whom she had been training with since the age of six, had given strict instructions to avoid sweets for weight management during this crucial period. However, on the day before the competition began, after a meal with Coach Nakano, she pretended to return to the hotel but secretly purchased a smoothie at a department store.

When she received it from the store clerk, she turned around only to find Coach Nakano standing there. She hurriedly stuffed the purchase into her bag, but it was already too late. As she started to run away, she heard a shout, “If you don’t win, I won’t forgive you!” echoing behind her.

The following day, the 17-year-old Sakamoto, driven by desperation, performed the Short Program (SP) and Free Skate with all her might. In the SP, she scored in the 70-point range for the first time in an ISU competition. Her Free Skate was flawless, resulting in a new personal best.

At that time, after her first-place finish in her debut competition, Coach Nakano had commented, “In many ways, she’s still like an elementary school student. But maybe she’s starting to grow into a middle school student.” It wasn’t until four years later, just a month before the 2022 Beijing Winter Olympics, that the underlying circumstances driving Sakamoto’s determination became known.

A Strong Bond with a Strict Coach Who Always Finds the Bad

There’s a strong bond between the renowned coach, Nakano, who will turn 71 in October, and Sakamoto. They’ve walked hand in hand as coach and student. When the coach mentions, “Despite being healthy, she tends to get sick, and she’s an interesting character but quite sensitive. Moreover, strangely enough, even when she does something wrong, I always find out,” her disciple affectionately calls her a “strict mom” while maintaining their unwavering trust.

About five years ago, coach Nakano happily showed off a smartphone case hanging around her neck, saying, “Since I always forget my smartphone, Kaori gave this to me as a birthday present.” This image left a lasting impression.

Over time, questions about coach Nakano have become a staple for us, the reporters. This is not only because there’s an abundance of material to cover but also because of the richness of the stories. Even immediately after finishing in third place at this season’s opening “Gensan Summer Cup,” when asked about coach Nakano, Sakamoto’s expression underwent a transformation. She chuckled and said, “She told me, ‘Do it with pride.’ So, I’m preparing myself because we start the training camp two days from now,” showing a determined look.

Powered by my nieces and nephews

This season’s short program, “Baby, God Bless You,” is the first program Sakamoto has chosen herself in her skating career that began at the age of four. In January, her niece was born, followed by a nephew in March. Sakamoto shared, “Each of my sisters sends me videos and photos of ‘Mei-chan’ and ‘Oi-chan’ for the day, which gives me incredible strength. I wanted to transform this strength into my performance.” She selected a piece from the theme song of the medical drama “Kounodori,” where the protagonist is an obstetrician, composed by pianist Shinya Kiyozuka.

She smiles as she talks about her nephews, saying, “They can already turn over. Babies grow so quickly. Just watching them is so soothing.” She participated in ice shows until early August, so her first competition felt like “homework over summer vacation, barely making it or not making it in time for both the short program and free skate, pushing myself until just before the competition.” The performance is still a work in progress. However, with her positive attitude and a keen understanding of what she lacks at this moment, all eyes are on how she will complete her beloved program.

A Grown-Up Who Enjoys Alcohol During the Off-Season

The first time I interviewed Sakamoto was at the 2015 World Junior Championships held in Estonia. I vividly remember her nosebleed before her performance on the ice. She explained that her nose had a tendency to dry out easily since childhood, which often led to nosebleeds. However, that young girl has now grown to the age of 23. She seems to have started drinking alcohol during the off-season. Her go-to choices are “beer for the first drink, followed by cola, and then plum wine.” Sakamoto is fun even when he’s sober. She must be bursting with laughter at drinking parties.

Just knowing a glimpse of her true self makes you want to support this skater even more. Beyond her impressive skills, dedication, and charm as an athlete, conveying the human side of “Kaori Sakamoto” is also considered part of a journalist’s duty.


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