What might have been seen as an upsetting start of the season for the World champion – Kaori Sakamoto finished second in Bergamo, behind Rinka Watanabe – was, in fact, layered in Kaori’s conviction that she can, and will do better later in the season; and in her response of genuine joy to her teammate’s success.
by Florentina Tone/Bergamo
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You should have seen the two before, during and after the medals’ ceremony at Lombardia Trophy: all smiles, taking pictures with all of those asking, signing autographs and posters and enjoying the praises, the compliments, the hugs, then smiling on the podium, and posing for the photographers while surrounding themselves with the Japanese flags.
Wearing the flags as royal mantles, and chatting, and giggling – and leaving each other space to enjoy success to the fullest; see the beautiful moment when Kaori hid under the boards, so the (entire) focus of the photographers be on Rinka.
And then, in the rather informal mixed zone of Lombardia Trophy, answering to the three journalists in the room, a lovely mixture of English and Japanese and, again, smiling to the ears: Rinka, ecstatic about her success, trying to process it while answering in a fluent English, and then translating Kaori’s answers from Japanese, having so much fun while doing it, and simultaneously marveling at some of the information received to translate (Marie-France Dubreuil choreographing for only one singles skater per season – and this season is Kaori), or at the one handed over by Kaori in Japanese.
The whole scene had an air of “Lost in Translation” in parts, but we didn’t get lost after all, we got the meaning of it all – and Kaori and Rinka’s continuous and joyful dialogue made the encounter even more relaxed.
This exchange of smiles, wonders, laughter has been one of the most genuine and heartwarming moments of the entire women’s competition in Bergamo – and it didn’t seem at all like an upset for the World champion: but a start of the season for both Rinka and Kaori, in which Rinka was above everything else happy that she surpassed the 200-point barrier (she had been stuck at 199), and Kaori felt so at home in Bergamo, surrounded by the love of the audience, of the whole IceLab staff, and relaxed she got to begin her season here, and certain that, from here, the only way is up.
She had begun the free skate day at IceLab with the women’s practice, wearing the same arsenal of smiles up her sleeves, greeting her fans and gladly answering to their requests.
It was just something about her, on that particular day in Bergamo, that gave us all a sense of freedom, of lightness, of: I’m not worried, this is just the start of the season, and I’m enjoying it to the fullest.
It does seem like a different Kaori Sakamoto this season – as if she’d found the answer to some of her questions and dilemmas. Her free skate gave a sense of openness, of heart that gives and then receives. A new Kaori Sakamoto starting this season in a journey of discoveries: who she is, who she wants to be in the skating world, now that she has already reached those intermediate peaks (an Olympic bronze medal and the World champion title).
As for Rinka Watanabe, she skates to Japanese music in her long program this season, a program that she thinks that Japanese people will, maybe, understand better, more like a journey in time, and a parallel to Covid-times as well, a program choreographed by Cathy Reed.
Rinka’s scream in the Kiss and Cry after the free skate said it all: dream accomplished. The 200 points barrier had been surpassed. It’s now time for a different one – maybe skate this program at Worlds in Saitama? Oh, Rinka doesn’t even dare to dream it – she covers her ears in disbelief, in complete amazement when hearing the question. A new dream might have been born.
Her triple Axel does have dream qualities, that’s a sure thing – she nailed a beauty in the free.
Rounding the podium was other skater that feels like home in Bergamo – and, in a way, it’s almost home, since she trains in Italy, in Egna, with Lorenzo Magri: the bubbly, happy Ekaterina Kurakova, who has almost started a tradition from medaling at Lombardia Trophy: silver last year, bronze this September.
And you can almost feel Ekaterina’s joy, enthusiasm: the golden happiness that she can (and continues to) do what she dreams of doing: (figure) skate. That was the most precious medal that Katia won in Bergamo: the fact that she keeps on living her dream, the awareness of it, and all the happiness and the balloons that comes with that. She is, in fact, a yellow balloon in her free skate to music from the cartoon “Up”: the embodiment of the simplest idea of happiness – if you dream of something, you can go and live your dream.
And Ekaterina Kurakova is the living proof of it.
Of the three Japanese women in Bergamo, Wakaba Higuchi seemed the most preoccupied one – and she was indeed preoccupied with not being in top form for this event, with questions about how would it be. It was a start – for her too. And though she finished on the 9th place overall, diving in a sea of unknown, she received wonderful feedback to her brand new programs from the audience.
And one could easily see the programs were already wearing Wakaba’s air, that she had made them hers – and they do have the potential to grow into tradermark-programs, just like her Bond-free skate from earlier on.
As for Amber Glenn, she left behind the dream of the Olympics that consumed her the last two years – and she is now ready to dive into present times. For both Ekaterina and Amber, leaving the Olympics in the past, for different reasons, almost seem like a relief – they are now ready, free of their own Olympic dreams, and others’ Olympic dreams and wishes.
They are now free to dream their new dreams.
The actual end of the women’s event in Bergamo? These photos.
FURTHER READ: Inside competitive mind. Top skaters share their thoughts at the beginning of the season
[Notes by Florentina Tone
Homepage and opening photo by Wilma Alberti
Other photos by Florentina Tone/Bergamo]