Shizuka is one of the most celebrated Japanese figure skaters of all time. Born on December 29, 1981 in Tokyo, Shizuka started skating at a young age and landed her first triple jumps while still in elementary school! She progressed through the ranks quickly and was the first skater in Japan to win three consecutive junior national titles (joined this year by Mao Asada). She was the senior national Japanese champion in both 1998 and 1999. Shizuka represented Japan at the 1998 Nagano Olympics in her home country.
After a few years’ absence from the top international level, Shizuka began training under Richard Callaghan in Detroit and immediately claimed the silver medal at the 2002 and 2003 Four Continents Championships. At the end of the 2003 season she left Callaghan to train with Tatiana Tarasova’s team at the International Skating Center in Simsbury, Connecticut. Under Tarasova’s guidance, Shizuka surprised the skating world by winning the 2004 World Championship in Dortmund, Germany, becoming the third Japanese woman to claim the title after Midori Ito (1989) and Yuka Sato (1994).
Dividing her time between Simsbury and Japan, Shizuka had another successful season in 2004-05, winning the NHK Trophy (Japan’s stop on the Grand Prix tour) and finishing second at the Grand Prix Final in Beijing. She then went on to finish a highly respectable ninth at the World Championship in Moscow. These successes set Shizuka up as a bona-fide contender for the Olympic gold medal.
Shizuka always behaves in a very formal, dignified, and “traditionally Japanese” manner (to quote a well-known skating photographer) when appearing in public. In recent years, her fun side has begun to emerge; she appeared in some funny vignettes on Japanese TV with teammate and friend Miki Ando during the 2005 World Championship.
The pivotal 2005-06 season began as an average one for Shizuka, as she picked up bronze medals in her Grand Prix events and at the Japanese nationals. Many observers considered her only an outside chance for a medal at the Turin Olympics, but Shizuka had other ideas. Two outstanding, near-flawless programs vaulted her ahead of top competitors Irina Slutskaya and Sasha Cohen and gave Japan its first-ever gold medal in figure skating and its first medal overall in an otherwise disappointing Olympics. Our own Gregg was in the stands in Turin to cheer her on and witness this historic event.
The gold medal brought about many changes in Shizuka's young life. She became an instant celebrity, appearing in promotions, on TV, and in skating shows throughout Japan. After considering her future, she decided to embark on a pro career, skating with Stars on Ice in both Japan and North America.
Shizuka now makes her living as informed skating commentator and still travels the world performing and making public appearances. She was the inaugural Japan Skates' Hall of Fame selection after she retired from competitve skating in 2006.