BY JACK GALLAGHER
Reigning American junior champion Tomoki Hiwatashi will compete in the senior U.S. nationals for the first time this week when he takes the ice at Kansas City’s Sprint Center.
The 16-year-old Hiwatashi, who is from Hoffman Estates, Illinois, made his senior debut in the Challenger Series at the Warsaw Cup back in November. Despite finishing ninth, it was another step up the ladder for the youngster whose parents hail from Kobe.
Hiwatashi is a four-time U.S. champion, having won titles in the juvenile, intermediate, novice and junior categories in the past six years. While he is not favored against the older skaters at this season’s nationals, it will offer him an opportunity to test himself against the best his country has to offer.
With this in mind, Ice Time asked Hiwatashi for his thoughts before he left his base in Colorado and headed to Missouri. Hiwatashi responded via email with his answers.
How are you feeling going into nationals?
“I feel pretty excited but a bit nervous because it is my first year in seniors.”
Has your training in Colorado been good?
“I think so. My footwork and my choreography increased in my opinion, but I’ll see what judges at nationals say before I say it got better or stayed the same.”
Do you have a goal in mind on results at nationals?
“My goal is to become top eight at nationals.”
How do you feel about the season so far?
“It hasn’t been the best but I would like to end it saying it was a good year.”
What is currently your biggest challenge with your programs?
“My biggest problem would probably be my stamina. Though, I came to Colorado, I still don’t have much stamina, so I need more and more.”
Hiwatashi, the world junior bronze medalist last season, began this campaign with a sixth-place finish at the Junior Grand Prix in St. Gervais, France, back in August.
Before the summer he moved from Illinois, where he was coached by Ukrainian Alex Ouriashev, to train with Kori Ade at the Colorado Sports Center in Monument, Colorado. The city is approximately 35 km north of Colorado Springs.
Hiwatashi trains alongside Jason Brown, the 2015 U.S. champion, who is also coached by Ade. Brown will enter the nationals as a medal favorite.
Nathan Chen, who finished second behind Yuzuru Hanyu at both the Grand Prix Final and the NHK Trophy this season, is expected by most skating analysts to claim his first senior national title in Kansas City. Chen was third last season behind Adam Rippon and Max Aaron.
Rippon withdrew from the nationals last week with a broken metatarsal in his left foot, while Aaron was fourth (Cup of China) and fifth (Cup of Russia) in his two GP assignments this season.