Kagiyama, father reap reward of uncompromising training

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Silver medalist Yuma Kagiyama, left, and his father Masakazu pose for photos in the men’s figure skating event at the Beijing Winter Olympics on Thursday.

BEIJING — After uncompromising training with his father, an 18-year-old figure skater ascended the Olympic podium, a distinction his father had been unable to achieve a generation earlier.

Yuma Kagiyama, a silver medalist in men’s figure skating at the Beijing Winter Olympics, is a third-year high school student who has been developing his skill under his father’s coaching.

Masakazu Kagiyama was an Olympian who competed in the 1992 Albertville and 1994 Lillehammer Games. Although he never won a medal, he is known as the first Japanese athlete to attempt a quadruple jump.

Now 50 years old, Masakazu has returned to the Olympic stage as his son’s coach. After Yuma’s best performance in free skating, Masakazu was given a high five by his disciple, who has now outshone his own achievement.

Masakazu had been coaching Yuma since he was 5 years old, but there was a period when he stepped back for the sake of giving his son some tough love.

When Yuma began junior high school, his father was concerned about Yuma’s smile, which showed on his face even when he failed jump. He also worried about his son’s attitude of not caring if he happened to forget the choreography.

He understood that Yuma was indeed a good skater but feared that his growth might be hindered by his environment at the time because he could ask his father any questions and get answers handed to him.

So Masakazu decided to change these circumstances to make him a top-class skater, asking choreographer Misao Sato, now 51, to teach his son.

Masakazu reportedly told Sato: “I want to eliminate some of his naivety. Please be strict with him.”

As the elder Kagiyama requested, Sato scolded Yuma mercilessly when he did not move well.

Yuma, taken aback, was often on the verge of tears. But his father did not reach out to him.

When Yuma was in his third year of junior high school, Masakazu was hospitalized with an illness, which became an opportunity to urge his son’s independent growth. Yuma started going to the skate rink by himself — and he changed.

He said that he vowed to practice hard so as not to disappoint his father and to earn his praise when he came back.

Yuma had his practices filmed on his tablet and sent the videos to his father in the hospital. However, he sometimes asked Sato not to send them when he failed a jump, fearing it could worsen his father’s condition.

He developed his skill while practicing without his father and even refined his ability to express himself — from gestures with his hands and fingertips to his facial expression after landing a jump.

The following year, Masakazu came back. He recognized Yuma’s ability, and said, “Let’s shoot for the top.”

Masakazu began to instruct his son with such sternness as he had never seen before, and scolded him harshly when he failed, saying, “Don’t run away.”

Last December, Yuma secured a slot at the Beijing Games, following Olympic veterans Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno. The 18-year-old continued to develop rapidly even since then, and finally finished ahead of the two great skaters at the big stage in the Olympic event.

“Congratulations!” Masakazu said to his medalist son.

“As we’ve been working hard together, it’s nice to share the joy,” Yuma said.