Bronze-winner Sakamoto credits hard work

The Yomiuri Shimbun
Kaori Sakamoto set a new personal best in the free program to win the bronze medal in the women’s figure skating event at the Beijing Olympic Games on Thursday.

BEIJING — Kaori Sakamoto claimed the bronze medal in women’s figure skating at the Beijing Olympics on Thursday. The 21-year-old Kobe native racked up a total of 233.13 points after taking 153.29 points and third place in the free program.

Despite the tense atmosphere pervading the rink, Sakamoto pulled off an almost perfect performance, but she had to wait to find out her final position, as Kamila Valieva of the Russian Olympic Committee had yet to skate.

Valieva ultimately placed fourth, having previously earned the highest score in Tuesday’s short program, in which Sakamoto came third.

“All my hard work has paid off,” a teary-eyed Sakamoto said. “All I can say is that I’m extremely happy.”

Sakamoto said the commendation certificate she received after winning the Kinki Regional competition in October has served as an important memento. Having struggled at the time with the competition’s complicated choreography, she ran out of steam and made a series of errors in the latter part of her program.

Despite winning, she said she was disappointed with her performance, and felt the urge to tear up the certificate and throw it away.

However, she was determined to learn from this self-perceived “failure” and she decided to hang the certificate in her room. Every time she saw it, she recalls saying to herself, “If I suffer now [through hard training], I’ll be able to finish a competition with a smile on my face.”

Sakamoto intensified her running training, one of her least favorite exercises, and her free program improved with each competition as a result.

She went through a slump after placing sixth at the 2018 Pyeongchang Winter Olympics. At the 2019 Japan Figure Skating Championships, she had been expected to win her second consecutive title but ended up in sixth place.

No matter how hard she tried, she repeatedly faltered when it came to high-level jumps, even fearing at one point that her skating career was drawing to an end. Nevertheless, she was determined to compete in Beijing “to better the Pyeongchang performance.”

Ignoring advice from those around her, Sakamoto decided to work on the quality of her overall performance, rather than merely trying to master complex jumps.

Since childhood, she has been described as “competitive” and “eager to win.”

“Yes, she’s lucky,” said her coach, Sonoko Nakano. “But it’s her hard work that has attracted that luck.” Indeed, Sakamoto has never stopped moving forward, drawn by the light of self-belief at the end of her path.