Figure skating, a Japanese passion

The Princess Aiko, 12, daughter of Crown Prince Naruhito of Japan was an idol. He is 19 years old and an angel face. It inspires designers brush manga “yaoi” that tell the homosexual love and soft young youths. His name Yuzuru Hanyu and was Olympic champion in figure skating in Sochi in February.

Yuzuru Hanyu is more than a sport, a symbol. He was born in Sendai, one of the cities most affected by the Fukushima disaster in 2011,  ”  a difficult subject to talk to me , he confided right after her gold medal. The rink where I trained a was destroyed by the earthquake. I went through very hard times. I actually considered quitting skating. “

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Fukushima was correct world championship skating that Tokyo was to host in March 2011. But three years later, the city of Saitama, north of Tokyo, is his joy to organize the competition until March 30 . To make the celebration grand, the organizers have chosen the Saitama Super Arena, a pregnant can accommodate 35 000 spectators.

For ‘idol Yuzuru Hanyu, the opportunity has finally come to commune with his audience. To d other Japanese champions, favorites individual competition of this hugely popular sport in their country, the World is an opportunity to finish their career on a high note: the double world champion Mao Asada, aka “Mao-chan  ”  or Akiko Suzuki, 8th in Sochi and Daisuke Takahashi, a bronze medalist at the Vancouver Olympics in 2010.

Regardless of their performance, they will leave the ice with the immense satisfaction of having helped make this sport one of the most popular of the Archipelago. Historically, Japanese skaters have always figured in major championships. But they only shone with too few exceptions. Third global 1977 Minoru Sano was the first Japanese to make a name on the international stage. “Until the 1990s , remembers Tatsuro Matsumura, responsible for international relations at the Japanese federation (Japan Skating Federation or JSF, created in 1929, the first national championships) and former ice dance skater, our goal was to get into the top ten for the right to enter two skaters next year. “


Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu received by employees of the company ANA, its sponsor, on 25 February in Tokyo.

For a long time the Japanese public was ignited for the stars who were mostly foreign. The American Janet Lynn, bronze medalist at the Sapporo Games in 1972, had captivated the Japanese public with her ​​angelic image and bright smile. Later, the French Philippe Candeloro capsized the c œ ur countless Japanese in the 1990s.

“When I was young, skating was not so popular , remembers Shizuka Arakawa, born in 1981 and first Asian to win an Olympic title in 2006 in Turin. I was embarrassed when people asked me questions. I did not say I was practicing this sport. ” The situation is changing with the victory of Midori Ito who became in 1989 the first Japanese world champion and in 1992 the first Olympic medalist of the Archipelago. Yuka Sato won the world championship in 1994.“These victories have leverage , rating it. Children who have seen us have started to slip, increasing the number of practitioners .  “

The Japanese federation decided to reform. “Until then, we let the skaters fend says Tatsuro Matsumura. We decided to be more active .  ” Hence the establishment in 1994 of a selection system which divides Japan into five regions. Each year the 120 best meet for a training camp in Nobeyama in Nagano Prefecture (center). ”  We expect the auction. We bring the stars to give desire, says Tatsuro Matsumara. We help young people to participate in the most recorded events .  “

“There is no need to have many practitioners to be successful , a precise personality of the Japanese Olympic environment. U did ten very good levels by category, that is enough. ” The champions of today are the result of this method focused on hard work. ” The real talent of Mao-chan , said Tatsuro Matsumura, is the ability to train twice as much as the others. “


Yuzuru Hanyu, in the "kiss and cry" with her coach Brian Orser in Sochi on 14 February.

Nagoya, Aichi Prefecture (center) plays a special role in the history of Japanese skating. Midori Ito grew up there. It inspired Mao Asada, who also benefited from the quality of the art facilities for the local university, Chukyo. This property, which has a campus in Toyota City, home of car manufacturer and located near Nagoya, attracts many students with its two rinks built after the Olympic victory of Shizuka Arakawa. Many skaters of today dream to train there. Kanako Murakami and Akiko Suzuki, present in Sochi, as the double world champion (2007 and 2011) Miki Ando, ​​also come from Nagoya. “Mothers are very Aichi enthusiastic , says Kanako Murakami. Some are even scarier.As coaches, they do not hesitate to scold us .  “” When I was a child , remembers Mao Asada, who started 3 years ballet lessons before turning to skating at 9 years ago were many people practicing skating. Some were very strong.This experience is one reason for my presence at this level. “

Financially, the JSF embarks on an intense marketing strategy to recruit sponsors. “When I joined the federation in 1998 , remembers Tatsuro Matsumura, it was losing money. There were only $ 2 million reserve .  ” Although there are few rinks in Japan  –  a hundred at most, more than 80 temporary -, the new policy is bearing fruit. Nearly 5,000 practitioners participating in competitions, against 3,000 in the 1980s.

As for sponsors, they jostle, even if a scandal of embezzlement forced eight leaders of the JSF to resign in 2006. They help support young talent, send them abroad or attract coaches, mainly Russian. These sponsors are particularly pleased that the Japanese victories encourage televisions – public broadcaster NHK and those, private, Fuji and Asahi – multiplying retransmissions. And now, athletes are now obliged to wear clothing bearing the logos of the brands.On television audiences explode. Archipelago hosts several major events, such as the NHK Trophy, created in 1979, which allows the chain to achieve peaks of more than 20% market share.

Advertisers are also rubbing their hands because the World Skating center of gravity has shifted to Asia, a continent in full economic boom. Ten of the thirteen official sponsors of the International Federation are Japanese groups.Canon included is (office equipment and photographic) Kosé (cosmetics), Sumitomo Seimei (insurance) or Acom (consumer credit). “Without Japan, the world’s skating would struggle financially , says one expert of economy of a sense, everyone has an interest in the Japanese skaters are getting popular. ” Skating has become such a business in Japan that some wonder if the success of skaters Nagoya not also due to the mercantile tradition of the inhabitants of this region. ” For advertisers and broadcasters, great , adds the expert in this business. the competitions last for several hours and the Japanese win .  ” the skaters have become veritable advertising media. ” Since its emergence on the world scene with his victory in 15 years in the final of the Grand Prix in 2005 , analyzed in 2013 journalist of the Japan Times Jack Gallagher, Mao [Asada] has almost worn alone the figure skating industry in Japan.  ” the journalist recalled that so many sponsors that it is almost impossible to go a day without see his face on television, on the train or in the press.

In this context, the prospect of withdrawal competitions could raise concerns. The modes are often transient in Japan. Within the JSF, it is aware that Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Daisuke Takahashi belong to a single generation, particularly talented. “So much success , says Tatsuro Matsumura, it’s 50% working and 50% luck .  ” in Japanese experts, it is considered that the new generation may not have the same talent, although the Olympic title in Sochi Yuzuru Hanyu tends to prove the opposite. ” Many have to breathe , notes the specialist business. the success of this young man that appeals even guarantees several years of popular support and therefore comfortable income.  “
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