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Champion figure skaters balance sport and school

Winter Games 17 January 2023

On a beautiful Sunday night, the queen of winter sports came to a close at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games with Team Japan claiming the top two spots in both the women’s and men’s single skating event.

In the women’s competition, Mai Mihara finished first, followed by teammate Kaori Sakamoto and Korea’s Yelim Kim.

Sota Yamamoto and Tatsuya Tsuboi went 1-2 in the men’s event, with Italy’s Nikolay Memola rounding out the podium.

Mihara, who successfully defended her FISU Games title from Krasnoyarsk 2019, attends Konan University in Japan and studies management and psychology.

“I’m very happy to skate my second University Games and I got a gold medal for the second time. It’s my treasure,” she said.

For Mihara, it’s a regular thing for her to sleep four hours per day, but she is still able to maintain both academics and athletics at an elite level because being a student and an athlete is very important to her.

“Usually, I wake up to get to practice and then go to school to study and come back home to practice. And repeat,” she said.

Bronze medallist Kim agrees balancing both school and training is difficult, but she enjoys having the title of student-athlete because she believes it’s something special that not everyone gets to experience.

“There are more things to consider when being a university student because I have to focus more on my studies. However, I didn’t get to experience school life as much as others when I was young, so there certainly are aspects of university that I cherish and enjoy.”

Not a lot of figure skaters continue their sports career when they get to university. This is due to the nature of the sport as figure skating takes a toll, both physically and mentally.

Figure skating also requires a lot of time commitment in order to master both the artistry and physicality sides of the sport, which causes figure skaters to consider retiring when they start full-time studies at the university level.

However, Kim wants to be the start in changing this stereotype.

“There are not a lot of figure skaters in university and I want to be a good example to upcoming skaters, so they can continue enjoying the sport while pursuing their studies,” she said.

Both Mihara and Kim were heading back home soon after the figure skating gala exhibition to get back to training in preparation for the 2023 world championships in March.

“My goal is in March, the world championships. So I want to perform perfectly in short and free programmes,” Mihara said with a smile.

“I’m very happy about my results here at the FISU games, but I want to work on the mistakes and put out a performance that I’ll be more satisfied with at the world championships,” concluded Kim.

Written by Diana Hong, FISU Young Reporter

We warmly thank FISU Official Partner Qiaodan Ltd. which provides remarkable uniforms to FISU Family and International Technical Officials since 2015. Qiaodan is a valuable partner for FISU as it continued to provide its support during the postponement of events due to the global pandemic, and recently extended the relationship with FISU up to and including 2025.