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Behind the glory of Japan’s figure skating

Winter Games 20 January 2023

Behind the shiny medals and cheerful celebrations, countless people work tirelessly to help the student-athletes competing at the Lake Placid 2023 FISU World University Games find their way into the spotlight.

At figure skating events, Yoshiko Kobayashi was one of the many individuals who had a hand in the success of the Japanese team.

Kobayashi is one of the members of Team Japan who decide which skater are sent to international events such as the FISU Games, world championships and Four Continents championships, as well as summer camps, inviting top skaters from overseas.

Among her many tasks, she also makes sure athletes are on schedule and where they need to be. If athletes do not have enough practice time, she finds ways to schedule them at an ice rink before the event.

For Lake Placid 2023, her responsibilities changed as the team leader got sick before the Games and asked her to also take over her job, which is mainly taking care of anything the athletes need.

“When I started I didn’t understand what I had to do. For example, the skaters always want to blow their nose, but there is no garbage can, so I have it prepared,” she said while showing the kit she has with her every time she goes to a competition.

It’s an “all-inclusive-ready-for-any-emergency” tool, including a sewing kit, tissues, garbage bags, and much more. It was so helpful that even though she works for Team Japan, she ends up helping skaters from other countries when needed.

With so many high-level athletes on a single team, including champions, medal winners and non-podium finishers, Kobayashi says it’s imperative to take care of all of them after the event, but she makes sure she adjusts how she approaches them.

“I try to be natural and to take even more time for the lower-ranked athletes. It’s very important because higher-ranked skaters are so busy. And also I take care of the top skaters for the podium because there are so many rules.”

These include making sure the skaters have a proper uniform for medal ceremonies. However, once she has made sure top skaters are taken care of, she goes back to her other skaters.

The level of competition at FISU Games figure skating events is constantly increasing due to the participation of elite athletes such as world champion and Olympic medallist Kaori Sakamoto, as well as back-to-back FISU titlist Mai Mihara. It could be easy to disregard the University Games because they are lesser-known in the figure skating world, but for Kobayashi it is not the case.

“It’s important to attend this event because this is only for special skaters who attend university and not a lot of skaters do both after graduating high school.”

Unfortunately, a lot of elite figure skaters don’t pursue higher education due to the stereotype of quitting their sport once they reach university to “focus on their studies”.

Kobayashi spends a lot of her time at the arena, which leaves her less time with her family. On her phone, the majority of her photos are of skaters or anything related to figure skating.

“This is a funny story. My family and I have a calendar and we put our plan for the year and I put down Lake Placid and the rest of the events for the season and I’m barely home,” she chuckles.

However, she did get to visit a friend in Los Angeles this past summer with her family, so she got to add more family photos in her album. She was proud of how beautiful her daughter was.

Her motivation for her job comes from her passion for the sport. She used to be a housewife before fully committing to the Japanese figure skating world. She was even a judge for the International Skating Union before things got too busy with her current job.

Even though figure skating takes a lot of time in her daily schedule, she loves her job. Not only does she find joy from seeing successful results from her skaters, she also enjoys watching figure skating.

Kobayashi adds that the success of her skaters comes from the coaches.

“I appreciate the coaches because they work so hard for the skaters and even if it’s not a good season, they compete together with good sportsmanship,” she says with a smile.

After a successful event at Lake placid 2023, including gold and silver in both women’s and men’s single free skating, Kobayashi and Team Japan hope for more glory at the upcoming world championships which will take place on home soil, in Saitama, from March 20-26.

Written by Diana Hong, FISU Young Reporter