Transcript of Japan Skates' interview with Yukina Ota at Toronto Cricket Club, Aug 10, 2007

By Mark S., (c) Japan Skates 2007.

For photos and videos from the interview, please click HERE!  Japanese translation is HERE!  Check the interview for soundclips so you can hear Yukina tell it by herself!

Finally!  For those who don't know, the idea for my participation in Japan Skates was born back in early 2004 when I attended the Four Continents Figure Skating Championship in Hamilton (Ontario), near Toronto. I went to the competition in hopes of seeing several skaters I admired who were on the original roster. The ladies' field was wide open. The Japanese contingent featured the already-veteran Yoshie Onda, whom I had seen several times before, and a young sparkplug with a triple Axel in her arsenal named Yukari Nakano. The "third" member of the team was unknown to me, despite her being the defending World Junior champion and a fourth-place finisher at the Japan senior Nationals. By the time the competition finished, I had a new favourite young skater. Her name was Yukina Ota.

Fast forward three-and-a-half years. A reader of Japan Skates was very nice to write in and tell me that Yukina was training in Toronto this summer. The Japan Federation, as always, graciously approved the request and asked Yukina if she would agree to an interview. She did, and called me personally to arrange it. We set the date for Friday, August 10 at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club.  Along with my fiancée
I-Ching and our friend and photographer extraordinaire Gigi, I arrived at the Cricket Club at 3:30 to view Yukina's choreography seminar. After it was over (and we had taken some great pics and video), we sat down for the long-awaited interview.  Enjoy.

Yukina did not need an interpreter as she speaks excellent English from the time she has spent in North America. When she was unsure of a word, she would write it in kanji and I-Ching would translate. I have tried to stay as close as possible to a verbatim transcription.

JS:  Japan Skates
YO:  Yukina Ota

JS:  Thank-you, Yukina, we appreciate you doing the interview today.   You came to Toronto for David Wilson's choreography.

YO:  Yes.

JS:  Was that your decision or was it the Japan Federation's decision?

YO:  It was my decision.

JS:  How did you know about David?

YO:  My coach, Mr. Yutaka Higuchi, he's very good friends with David, so that's why.

JS:   That's your regular Japanese coach?

YO:  Yeah, yeah, exactly.

JS:  What do you think David brings to your skating?

YO:  I feel he choreographs more natural... I used to skate in positions (raises arms), but he often says "Let it go" and I'm like "Wow, it's nice and it's easy too".

JS:  What would you like to improve most about your skating?

YO:  Oh, this season?  (laughs) Here (points to her heart) and then I can control everything.

JS:  The heart...emotional or mental?

YO:  Yeah, mental thing but also, how do you say...stamina.

JS:  What is your music this season?

YO:  My short program is "Madame Butterfly", which I used to use, but it was for the long program, so my mom edited it down, she made it shorter.

JS:  And how about the free skate?

YO:  "Aranjuez".  Do you know "Aranjuez"?  The Spanish piece.  "Concerto d'Aranjuez" (hums the tune).    Listen to Yukina

JS:  Oh, that's going to be great!  How about exhibitions?  Do you have any exhibition numbers planned yet?

YO:  No, not at this point.

JS:  Who usually chooses your music?

YO:  Um, me (giggles).  But this time, Aranjuez, David chose Aranjuez.  I like it.

JS:  What is your favourite type of music to skate to?

YO:  Classical music, I like to skate with classical music.

JS:  What are your international assignments this season?

YO:  I have Golden Spin of Zagreb, and in Japan.  Japan Nationals.

JS:  You were going to skate at Thornhill Summer Skate next weekend, but you're not going to anymore.  Why is that?  Why are you returning to Japan?

YO:  Just me and my coach decided.  Because my coach has a training camp in Nagano starting the 18th of August, so that's why he wanted me to come back as soon as possible.

JS:  Would you consider returning to Toronto or another city in North America to train, or do you prefer to train in Japan?

YO:  I hope this time if I have a chance to come train abroad, then I really want to come back in here.  In Toronto.

JS:  And you have David...and Brian...and Yu-Na here.

YO:  Yu-Na, that's right!  I have really great skaters, and it's good for me.

JS:  Have you enjoyed living in Toronto?

YO:  Mm-hmm.  We've been downtown.  And we went to Niagara Falls.

JS:  Let's talk about some of the injuries you've had in recent years.  After Skate America in 2004, you dropped out of competition for a long time and you took some time off to heal your injuries.  What kind of injuries did you have?

I still have the ankle-bone inflammation.  My main injury.

JS:  Was it very hard to recover?  Was it a lot of training, was it hard mentally?

YO:  Yeah.  A lot mentally.  Because you know, it's not healed completely, so if I compete with this I need a really strong mind but, you know, always I'm rushing, because I used to - I could do everything - but now I've lost them, so I'm like "Why, why , why?".  But now it's getting much better.    Listen to Yukina

JS:  Did you ever think about giving up skating during your recovery?  You were off quite a long time, over a year.

YO:  Yeah,  I wanted to stop competing then.  That's why I went to the States.  Just to have fun.  My dad recommended to me to go there.  I said to him "I want to be a coach some day".  Then he said "How about you go there, do some ice dancing and have a good memory of the States?".  He didn't want me to say "I hate skating, that's it, I quit!" and I stayed in competition.

JS:  So you were with the Ice Theatre of New York?

YO:  So then I went to the States, to Colorado.  Then Judy Blumberg came.   She saw my exhibition.  I mean,  I took some ice dance classes, but I was still skating with my favourite pieces like "Last Dance" and "Madame Butterfly" and sometimes "Turandot".  Then she saw my performance and she took me.

JS:  What motivated you during this period?  Did you have friends and family?  Did you have faith during this period?

YO:  Uh, yeah.  But mostly Mr. Kim (in Colorado Springs), he helped me a lot.

JS:  So your ankle injury still bothers you a little bit?

YO:  Yeah, a little bit.

JS:  What are your goals this season, in terms of placement?

Yeah...I have my goals, but they're in my mind! (laughter)

JS:  How about longer term?  Would you like to continue to the next Olympics in Vancouver?

YO:  Hmm... I just want to take it year by year, and we'll see.

JS:  Let's talk a little about the scoring system that's been used for a few years.  You're a very artistic skater.  Is it difficult to adapt your style to the new system, or do you prefer 6.0?

YO:  You know, my jumps are kind of cheated sometimes, so that's why I have the deductions, last Nationals, but it's good for me.  So I can improve, I can try doing...  I have to practice Bielmann, inside-to-outside spiral, a lot of things.  It's hard, but it's good for me, and I can do it.

JS:  Do you follow any special diet to be an athlete?  Do you have to know how much protein, how much fat?

YO:  Actually, I know a lot about that, but I think it's really good to eat with somebody and have fun.  That's really...I need it.   I need to be healthy, so that's why I drink water a lot.  Then I eat really healthy stuff, like vegetables,  and low fat ice cream! (all laugh).

JS:  Can you describe for us a typical day in your life?  When you're in Japan and you're training, and it's a competition in three weeks, for example.  What is your day like?

YO:  I wake up and wash my hair (giggles)!  I do yoga, and dance.   Some university class.   Then I come here, to take to the ice.   Then I skate about two hours.  Then I have a rest, then I have one more session.  Then I go home, to take a bath (giggles).

JS:  So you're a student at a university?

YO:  Yeah, but I'm not a regular student.  I'm just taking some classes.   Right now, I'm taking health foods, like gingko, and sports science (writes it in kanji).

JS:  (Noticing her beautiful handwriting)  You have an interest in calligraphy.  I read that.

YO:  Yeah, really?

JS:  Is it hard for you when your friends are relaxing or partying, and you have to train and stay in shape?

YO:  But, I think I need to go out sometimes.  I can go out with my friends, that's part of training.  That's what I do.

JS:  What do you consider to be your best performance?  Maybe World Juniors, maybe Four Continents?

YO:   Oh, I would say my Junior Grand Prix Final, the long.  It was my best.  But I have a good memory with my Nationals.  That was 2002/03, I skated almost perfectly.  I got fourth that time.  It was my best performance.

JS:  What was your favourite program to skate of all the years?

YO:  I used to use "West Side Story" and "Tango".  That was my favourite.

JS:  Do you remember what years, what season?

YO:  I was in seventh or eighth grade.  I did that before I entered international competition, so before that.

JS:  (I-Ching asking) Was it because of the music that you liked them?

YO:  I think so.  Also, I did "The Dying Swan".  I loved that piece, too.

JS:  What is your favourite jump?

YO:  My favourite jump?  It depends... (all laugh).  Ah... oh... actually, I like the Lutz.  But my Lutz does not always go up straight, but I love Lutz and my swinging Axel (giggles).

JS:  What's the hardest jump for you?

YO:  It depends.  Sometimes I think it's really easy, but sometimes I feel it's a little Salchow.

JS:  What was the first triple jump you learned?

YO:  Toe loop.  When I was eleven, summer.  It was summer, I remember that.

JS:  What made you want to be a skater when you were little? How did you start?

 I moved to a new house, and there was nothing, so that's why my mom took me and my older brother to the rink but actually we went to the pool, but there were tons of people and next to the pool there was an ice rink, Daigo Figure Skating Club, and we went there and my mom saw only three people on the ice, so that's why we started.

JS:  When did you first start to love it and wanted to be a competitive figure skater?

That's kind of hard. I was taking lessons, yeah. That was just part of my life, you know, I go to school, and figure skate, and eat and sleep.  So you know, I didn't feel any... it's like a part of my life and just like myself.

JS:  You are a very artistic skater. Is ballet an influence on your skating? Do you like to practice ballet?

YO:  Oh yeah, I love ballet but I used to take it once a week but right now I'm doing some stuff, but not as much as before.

JS:  So the ballet, was that just to help your figure skating, you didn't do ballet by itself?

YO:  That's right.

JS:  How about other interests, other things you like to do? I hear that you play the piano.

Yeah, I love to play the piano, and knitting. I love knitting! Also, recently, I have to cook, so I have cooking too.

JS:  (I-Ching asking) Do you have to cook for yourself here, not your homestay mom?

She cooks sometimes, but I'm eating Japanese food, so...

JS:  (Gigi asking) What do you cook?

I love Korean food, so I make Kimchi Chigae, or Bi-bam-bap.

JS:  (everyone) Wow! I used to live in Korea.

That's why you know it well, maybe.

JS:  I speak some Korean. I heard you on a video speaking Korean (speaking in Korean with her).

Like "I'm hungry", "thank-you", bye-bye", something like that.

JS:  Did you stay with a Korean family in Colorado Springs?

Yes, with a Korean family, yeah.

JS:  Who are some of your best friends in skating? Japanese, Korean, anybody?

That's interesting! Hmmm... I have skating friends, but...hmmm... right now, her name is Momo, she's a student with Yutaka and skating all the time. I used to have Ami Kobayashi, she was my best friend in skating.

JS:  Who are some of your favourite figure skaters or heroes?

Oh, when I was little, I loved Michelle Kwan and Lu Chen, especially Lu Chen. You know, she was Asian, so I really, really loved her.

JS:  The first Chinese world champion.

She's just gorgeous, and beautiful. I loved her. I miss her skating, but recently I like the ice dancers.

JS:  Who are some of your favourites?

Ah, the Israeli team, Chait and Sakhnovski.

(We then talked a little about the unfortunate incidents surrounding Maxim Staviski and Nobunari Oda.  We wished them both all the best.)

JS:  We ask this to all the skaters.  What was the funniest gift you've ever got from a fan?

Ah... I don't remember! I think I didn't have any funny gifts!

JS:  Any letters or messages?

Ah no, everybody gives me really comfortable stuff (all laugh).

JS:  If you could have anything thrown onto the ice for you, what would you like? A really cool gift?  Kokkoi!

(All laughing) Ah, can I say...?! (more laughter) A house, a car!

JS:  (Gigi asking) When you get the gifts on the ice, what do you do with them after? Do you keep everything?

 Yeah, of course! Or sometimes I give them to little children, or young skaters.

JS:  Do you have a message for your fans? You're one of the most popular skaters at Japan Skates; everyone asks questions about you.

Thank you very much for a good time and cheering me...and just thank you again, so I'll do my best for them.  
Listen to Yukina

This was by far my favourite interview. Yukina was my inspiration for helping start this tribute with Gregg after watching her triumphant performances at the Four Continents in 2004 and her courageous effort at Skate America later than year. A year or so later, it was hard to imagine her even making a comeback with all her injuries, let alone coming to Toronto to train with David Wilson and having such solid plans for this season.

Yukina is a very confident and assertive young lady, arranging the entire interview herself and asking to approve the photos we took. We had great fun watching her choreography seminar (with another instructor, not David Wilson, since he was choreographing for Emily Hughes in Toronto that day) and talking to her afterwards. Following the interview, we all decided to try some of our favourite food at a nearby Korean restaurant, where Gregg joined us via cell phone from Boston.  We got to know her even better over the great food.  She's the middle of three children, and loves to shop!  In fact, Gigi took her shopping at Yorkdale Centre in Toronto afterwards.  And is there a special guy in her life?  We'll never tell!!! 

We would like to thank Yukina for giving us such a wonderful experience. We wish her the best and hope to stay in contact with her this season. Thanks also to Brian Orser who facilitated the meeting, Toronto Cricket Club skating director Debbie Crites who allowed us to photograph the choreography seminar, and to the Japan Federation for graciously authorizing yet another interview.


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