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Japan Skates » Japan Skates’ interview with Fumie Suguri – Tom Graham Arena, Richmond Hill, Ontario, April 29, 2010
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Japan Skates’ interview with Fumie Suguri – Tom Graham Arena, Richmond Hill, Ontario, April 29, 2010

It’s hard to believe, but less than two years ago, no one here at Japan Skates had ever met Fumie or had ever seen her skate live. Of course, we were very familiar with her skating, having watched her for many years and seeing her win World medals and delivering exceptional Olympic performances. When we heard that Fumie was training with Nikolai Morozov at Ice House in New Jersey, we asked for an interview and Gregg travelled from Boston to hold what turned out to be our best-received interview to date. We then caught up with Fumie again at the 2008 Skate Canada International in Ottawa.

When a journalist friend of mine mentioned that Fumie was in the Toronto area working on choreography with Lori Nichol, I jumped at the chance to request an interview. I knew that it would be very interesting for our readers to learn what was behind Fumie’s decision to keep skating competitively with the 2014 Sochi Olympics in distant view, as well as her change of agents and her deal with a new sponsor.

Fumie has not yet selected a coach for the new season, and as such feels that she should not publicly announce her new programs. As soon as this information is made public, we’ll update the site and this interview page. We hope you enjoy this extensive conversation with one of Japanese skating’s greatest stars and spokeswomen.

JS: Japan Skates

FS: Fumie Suguri

JS: Thank you, Fumie, for doing the interview.

FS: Oh, you’re welcome, my pleasure!

JS: Tell me a little bit about why you’re here and who you’re training with, and how long you’ve been here.

FS: I started choreography with Lori Nichol. I hadn’t worked with her for three seasons, but last year I asked her to re-choreograph my programs because I felt a little uncomfortable with some parts of them. She didn’t do the whole program, but she helped, and I decided I’d go back to her. In my mind, she’s the best for me. I worked with her for a long time.

JS: Which program did she help you with last year?

FS: Both the short and the long.

JS: How long are you in town for the choreography?

FS: I came here in the middle of April and I worked with Lori for five days. She then left for a while; that’s why I stayed a little longer than planned.

JS: Are you going to be here much longer?

FS: No, I’m pretty much done; I’m leaving for Japan on Saturday.

JS: You’ve obviously chosen your programs…. Can you tell me what they are, or is that not public information yet?

FS: It’s a really difficult decision, because of my coaching situation… To be safe, let’s hold off for now. When I’ve definitely figured out my coaching situation, I will know if I can publish my programs or not.

JS: What type of music do you prefer to skate to?

FS: I always pick up classical things, I guess. I like hip-hop as well, but for skating music I always have to think about good instrumentals, good orchestral music. That’s very important. This year, we couldn’t find good music ideas for the short program. We were struggling with the music person for, like, three hours without finding anything we liked.

JS: Did you choose your latest music with Lori?

FS: With Lori, yeah. The long program was my choice and she was very happy about that the first time I brought it in. I think that not working with her for two or three years helped us both a lot. I can see that she has different, fresh ideas. The break made us both fresh.

JS: You mentioned your coaching situation. I know you’ve had some not-so-positive experiences with coaches the last few seasons. Who will you be working with this year?

FS: Actually, I don’t know yet! (laughs) After Nationals, I had to figure out how I could continue to skate with my financial situation. I talked to many people and actually switched agents. And thank God I found a new sponsor, so that I could continue. I had already told Lori I wanted to work with her, because once the season ended she would be all booked - so I scheduled with her and that was a done deal. So right now, I have to think about my coach! It’s very difficult, because even during choreography I need some support technically from time to time; maybe I need some more speed here or some more rest there - just the small things. But I don’t have a coach right now, so I don’t know who I should ask for that!

JS: When Gregg interviewed you (July 2008) and when we last talked to you (October 2008) you were working with Nikolai. You then worked with Alexei Mishin. You mentioned then that really went to Nikolai for jumping. What do you think your biggest technical focus will be this year?

FS: It’s a very long story… After Nationals, I met with many people. During the Olympics I did some commentating, which for me was very unusual since I’ve always been competing, not watching from the outside! It was a very good experience for me to see the Olympics from the outside. All this time, I was thinking about why I wanted to continue skating as a competitor and not to turn professional. The main problem is that professional skating is not very popular in Japan. People are going to watch the competitions. It’s partly our fault that we have not offered them good shows. Since people are more interested in competitions, I thought that I needed to approach skating from the competitive side. My main goal is to improve the artistic side of my skating, and I also wanted to have better energy for the artistic elements in competition. You know, competition is becoming all about jumping right now; but when I think deeply, the thing I really love is the artistry. That’s why I asked Lori, because she brings those things. I think I have to improve that for the Japanese skating public as well.

JS: Who arranges a trip like this? Is it the Japan Skating Federation?

FS: Oh no, I do it myself! I made all the contacts, since basically it was my choice to come here and improve my artistic skating.

JS: You had a decision to make two years ago; that was to continue to the Vancouver Olympics. Are you satisfied with your success these last two years?

FS: Yeah! First of all, many people were thinking that it was a wrong decision that I continue skating after the Torino Olympics because I had kind of peaked there. But thank God that I worked with Nikolai, which was good for me and helped me understand other things. He taught me many sides of figure skating, and that was worth continuing for. Unfortunately, I could not go to the last Olympics, but I was able to think back about myself, and I really could see what I wanted to do in the future. So it was a good turning point that I could think about my future at this point. So I’m not really disappointed… I wasn’t satisfied with my result at last year’s Nationals, but it was the point I had to go through. (Listen to Fumie)

JS: There’s a lot of talk on the internet about why you’re continuing to skate. Do you have any idea much longer you’ll continue?

FS: As long as I can! When I met with my new agent, she mentioned that I’m the first one to have continued this long. So she said “Why don’t you just continue?” and not to give up. I had never thought of it that way. I thought back and said “Oh, that’s right!” At least I’m healthy and don’t have any injuries. I think that I can do it!

JS: Do you expect you’ll get Grand Prix assignments?

FS: I don’t know. I asked my Federation… I think I can get at least one, maybe two. I’m not sure.

JS: Some people say “Fumie’s contributed so much to skating”. I think your first NHK was 1996. Some people say that maybe younger skaters should get that Grand Prix spot that you might get. What do you think of that? Is that fair to say, or do you have more to contribute?

FS: I don’t know… You know, it’s happening everywhere. Everyone is stuck at the senior level. In Japan, figure skating is so big right now and so strong that it’s happening there. And in the U.S. it’s the same, you know. For example, Agnes Zawadski, the girl Lori was working with today, already looks like a senior, but she is sticking with junior. There are so many senior girls, so it’s the same situation everywhere. Also, the thing I’m trying to do is not just skating and watching my results…I want to do something for the younger skaters as well. In Japan, it’s becoming such a popular sport, but many skaters are struggling with finances. So I’d like to help that as well if I can. If I want to fix that, I have to be in a certain position to do things. It’s easier to do that if you’re competing, at least in Japan. The professional world is not a big market in Japan right now, so I have to do something while I’m still competing. I’m not sure if I’m explaining this well, but it’s like if I’m going to make some changes and have some influence, it has to be from the competitive side.

JS: Is the Japan Skating Federation supportive of your decision to keep skating?

FS: Yes, they are. I think I have to offer them a lot, you know… When I was young, they helped me so much, so now it’s my turn to give back to them. So that’s what I’m thinking for the next few years.

JS: “Give back” as in coaching at some point?

FS: Anything… I have to talk with my agent about what I can do for them. Basically, I think the biggest thing is finding financial support for the younger kids. Because only at the top - Mao, Miki, probably Akiko and myself - it’s just OK and we can do it, but for many kids in Japan it’s not a good situation. They might want to go abroad to train, but if they don’t have money they can’t come. Or perhaps they don’t have contacts among foreign people. I want to help that as well, if my federation allows me to do so.

JS: What is your agent’s name?

FS: It’s “Sunny Side Up”! They have a big soccer player, Hide Nakata, who has retired from the national team. The company started with him, so every Japanese person knows them as his agent. It’s a very simple name, “Sunny Side Up”… like eggs! (laughing)

JS: I read that you’re going to be an agent, or would like to be an agent? Is that true?

FS: I wasn’t trying to be an agent. But I wanted to do something, such as shows or seminars for kids. That’s why I decided to change agents. When I was younger, I asked others to help me. Now, I have to create things. It’s like a business partnership.

JS: You mentioned earlier about your sponsor. You were looking for a sponsor, and I think the name is “Yoshindo”. They’re a pharmaceuticals company. Can you tell me about how you met them?

FS: In the middle of March, I announced that I was going to continue figure skating, but that I had financial issues. In the press conference I asked if someone could PLEASE come forward and be my sponsor, just like that. And afterwards they just came to me and said that they could support me.

JS: Obviously you’re happy to have found them. Sponsorship has been a problem for a number of skaters; Were you at all upset about not having a sponsor, or being unsure, or were you confident you’d always find one?

FS: I was very surprised when three or four companies offered to sponsor me, not only Yoshindo. I was surprised, as I hadn’t gone to the Olympics. Maybe it was good timing, you know? Right after the Olympics, companies may have realized that figure skating is a big sport. But I want this to happen to the younger skaters as well. That’s what I’m expecting…if I have some connections with people, I can maybe introduce them…”How about this skater?”, “This skater is talented”, that kind of thing.

JS: I read, and this was in translation, that Yoshindo expects you to continue to the next Olympics in Sochi?

FS: Yeah, yeah! And thank God for that! I love this sport so much, and I’m having so much fun working on my artistic side. Competition always brings out a kind of feeling you just can’t get in everyday life, so I love it so much as well.

JS: So you can’t commit to four years, but you’d like to try?

FS: Yeah, for sure!

JS: I heard that Evgeni is going to try to be there too since it’s in Russia…

FS: He wants to? Oh, that’s nice to hear. He’s a bit younger, but we’re pretty close in age! I’ll have company! (laughs)

JS: Can you describe a typical day in your life when you’re training?

FS: This time of year, I’m doing choreography, new programs, and some shows. In the summertime I have to push myself hard to prepare for the upcoming season, so it’s more skating. But in spring it’s more like… recently I went to take a dance class - different types of things. Normally in August, we do some small competitions, and then fix the programs a little for the coming season. But this year, I’ll have to be ready a little bit earlier because I have to do Sectionals! (giggles)

JS: You have to do Sectionals?

FS: Yeah! (laughs) Because I finished so low at the Nationals. The rule is that only the top three can skip. I have to start with the Tokyo Block group! The very beginning level!

JS: Do you do weights or Pilates?

FS: I do Gyrotonic, similar to Pilates, and ballet. Ballet lessons are the most necessary thing for me.

JS: How many hours a day would you skate?

FS: Three, four hours a day, six days as week. Ballet at least one and a half hours.

JS: We have a fan question here.

FS: Good!

JS: A fan of yours from Japan wrote that she loved your Spartacus program. She wonders if you’ll ever skate it again, and also if you’re planning triple-double-double combinations.

FS: Yes! I’m doing the triple-double-double; I’ll try to do it next season - it’s my challenge. My goal in life is the triple-triple! So I have to do this. And Spartacus… I don’t know… I don’t think so. This year, Lori created different programs for my short and long, so I’m not going to do it in the immediate future. I like the style of that program, though.

JS: That question came from your fan, Yuko Fujii.

FS: I wanted you to write down that really want to thank my fans, because they support me so much. I have a lot of positive and very strong fans from when I was very young. I really thank them; even though I’m not doing well this year they still support me a lot. And I could not skate… my heart would not go into the competition without their support. I really want you to write that down. I was so upset at myself that I did not have time to write a message or something like that because I’ve been so busy these last three months. And I did not have a place that I could put my message; that was my problem because my agent changed. They’re preparing a new website, I guess. (Listen to Fumie)

JS: This is another fan question from Janet Neil of London, Ont. What is the highlight of your last four years, since Torino?

FS: Hmmm…. What was it… I don’t know…

JS: The silver medal in Calgary, perhaps?

FS: That was kind of difficult at the time… I wasn’t very… even though I finished with the silver medal, it was hard for me deep inside after the Torino Olympics. I was struggling with why I couldn’t stand on the podium after skating so well. The entire time, my biggest thought was “Why?”. I struggled with that for a year or two. Also, I was having problems with my jumping technique, so nothing was working well. But after I went to Nikolai, things starting coming back a little bit. Finishing second at Nationals and standing on the podium, which was a very good result - I felt very happy at that moment. But the happiest moments for me are when my audience thinks I had good program or performance. That, for me, is the best, not just winning. If someone says it was a good performance or “I LOVE your program”… it makes me so happy to hear that.

JS: Are you fully healthy this season?

FS: Yes, yeah!

JS: I heard from a Japanese journalist friend that you had had some injuries in the middle of last season because of boot problems. Can you tell us about that?

FS: Yes, exactly! Actually, I switched my boots, and the boots had a little problem and I injured my left ankle which really caused me to struggle, even through Nationals.

JS: But you’re physically healthy now?

FS: Yeah, finally it’s getting better. I continued to skate with it, but I think my ankle is good, finally. It took a long time because the previous season I broke a rib, and everything was affected by that. My balance wasn’t right. But right now I’m very healthy. And I practice here much more than I do in Japan, so it’s very good. Lori was just asking me not to get injured again! (laughs).

JS: Two years ago, Gregg asked you if you had a favourite skater and you said that really liked certain things skaters did, and not a skater specifically. What about now? Are there any new, young skaters that you really enjoy watching?

FS: I can’t say this or that one; that’s very difficult. Basically, I like more mature, professional skaters, because they put more heart into it when they perform. That’s what I really like to watch. For example, during the Olympics, I was very happy with how Daisuke skated… with his heart. Even though he fell on the quad, which hurt him technically, he had a huge smile while he was doing his footwork. What should be there is a performance. So I love those who are delivering a performance. As for the little ones, if they’re trying to do that, I love that as well.

JS: You joked with Gregg that you know the coaches better than the skaters these days. Who would you say some of your best friends in skating are?

FS: Almost everybody right now. It’s very strange, very strange! It’s true, you know, because I’m still competing and they’re standing on the side boards. It’s so fun to see them there… I think “Oh I know him, he did some crazy things when he was skating”, that kind of thing. Among the Japanese, almost all of the younger skaters are best friends. Oh… who? Actually, Nikolai and I competed at the same competition together, the 1997 Worlds in Lausanne. That was my first trip to Worlds. I didn’t know it at the time!

JS: Do most of your friends tend to be in skating?

FS: I have many friends who are coaches. Because of my age, if I go to competitions, the coaches are often girls from my age group, so it’s difficult for them to be friends with me! Most of the time I talk with the coaches.

JS: Some fun questions to finish up with. You are very fashionable… who is your favourite designer?

FS: I like Dolce & Gabbana. Who else? What I like are things that are very different, not normal.

JS: Awesome! How about your favourite colour?

FS: It really depends on the time, but probably blue or purple. People usually think purple is my colour. I was wearing a lot of purple so my fans associate purple with me!

JS: How about your favourite food?

FS: Food? Japanese…Italian…sweets! I miss Japanese food right now because I haven’t eaten it for half a month!

JS: What was your favourite subject in school?

FS: I would say… philosophy. The way of thinking. I took social science, so it basically covered philosophy and economics, all sorts of thing. But the thing I liked the most was philosophy.

JS: Maybe someone has already asked you this, but what is your favourite jump?

FS: My jump? Flip.

JS: How about your least favourite?

FS: Loop, Salchow… actually the Salchow! It’s very difficult for me. I dunno… actually I know why, but… I’m not a very big fan of that jump!

JS: What was the first triple jump you learned? I’ve heard the famous story about Michelle Kwan showing you the triple Lutz.

FS: Yeah! Lutz, flip and toe…

JS: How old were you when you landed your very first triple jump?

FS: I was, like, fifteen…

JS: Fifteen, really?

FS: Yeah, it was kind of late! I started skating early, but my parents weren’t satisfied with me just doing figure skating. They put me into a strict private school, so I was very busy with that as well. So figure skating was like a hobby for me. Then one time I went to the Junior Nationals and I skated SOOOO bad. I was so upset with myself and thought “What was this performance in front of the audience? This is not good”. Also, figure skating requires money, and my family was supporting it so I felt I had to take it very seriously. So I did both from then on, studying and skating so hard. I was fourteen, fifteen… kind of late. (Listen to Fumie)

JS: Last question! You don’t have to answer this if you don’t want to… A young man wrote into Japan Skates and asked if there was a “Mr. Fumie”. Do you have a boyfriend?

FS: Oh! (laughs) Right now, not really… I wanted to, actually, and you know all of my friends are getting married or having children, so I’m hoping, too. But it’s very hard for me because I love my sport so much. Basically, no one goes over that! (Listen to Fumie)

JS: How’s your sister, Chika?

FS: Good! She just had her exams for massage therapy, doing acupuncture and so on. She passed her tests in March and she’s starting to work. She’s teaching as well. And from May 1st she’s going to do a show in Japan. She’s doing some ring or trapeze piece.

JS: Those always scare me!

FS: Yeah, me too. Since she’s not technically high yet, she sometimes wobbles!

JS: Thank you so much!

FS: You’re welcome!

Japan Skates would like to thank Fumie for taking the time to meet me and my photographer Gigi and for giving such thoughtful and detailed answers. We hope to see her again before long, and we wish her the best of success next season!

4 Responses to “Japan Skates’ interview with Fumie Suguri – Tom Graham Arena, Richmond Hill, Ontario, April 29, 2010”

  1. Thank you for this wonderful interview. Your great questions revelead Fumie’s thoughts about the past present and future. In particular, her openness about her disappointment in Torino after skating so well in the free skate. Also, great to hear her so enthusiastic about the future though. Great job!

  2. That was a great interview! Thank you so much for conducting it and to Fumie for giving such wonderful responses. You continue to be one of my favorite figure skaters!

  3. I just now read the interview with Fumie. She has been my favorite skater since I first saw her several years ago. I hadn’t seen her in any competitions for a while so didn’t know that she was still skating until I saw her in one of the Grand Prix events just recently. I’m so happy to know that Fumie is continuing to compete and hope I have the opportunity to see more of her skating. I think she is such a graceful skater.

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