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Sunday, Nov. 11, 2007

Suguri perseveres as rivals grow younger

Staff writer

Sometimes in life we tend to take things that endure for granted.

News photo
Fumie Suguri, a two-time Olympian who finished fourth at the 2006 Turin Games, speaks with The Japan Times during a recent interview. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Be it a person, place or inanimate object, we become so familiar with them that we think they will always be around.

At the age of 26, five-time Japan national figure skating champion Fumie Suguri knows the feeling.

"When I was young I didn't think I would skate this long," Suguri said during a recent interview. "The skaters are getting younger, and the media likes the younger skaters a lot. I seem to be going in the opposite direction. I may become the oldest skater in figure skating history!"

The personable Suguri is now into her second decade performing on the senior level. She has enjoyed a long run of solid results on both the international and domestic stages.

The Chiba native has also known her share of disappointments, having twice narrowly missed medaling in the Winter Olympics (placing fourth in the 2006 Turin Games, and fifth in the 2002 Salt Lake City Games). These are the kinds of finishes that can break or motivate skaters.

Count Suguri in the latter category.

"I never wanted to quit skating," she says. "Sometimes, when my body is tired, I don't feel like practicing. Skating is so much fun. Every day I have a new experience — like body, music, technique."

The three-time world championship medalist (one silver, two bronze) claims the rush that comes with competition is a great motivator for her.

"It is really a different atmosphere before a competition and a show," she says. "I still get really nervous before an event. I get very edgy, but in a good way. This feeling gives me power and that is what still keeps me skating as an amateur. "

With her longtime rival Shizuka Arakawa apparently retired from the amateur ranks for good, Suguri is now the doyenne of Japanese skaters.

News photo
Five-time national champion Fumie Suguri, a native of Chiba Prefecture, has won three world championship medals during her long career on the ice. MARIKO PHOTO

In the recent U.S.-Japan International Counter Match in Yokohama, Suguri was seven years older than her closest teammate (world champion Miki Ando, who is 19), but she refused to use that as an excuse for an inconsistent performance that saw her lose her individual matchup with American teen Beatrisa Liang.

"I felt very tired after this competition, because I haven't participated in a competitive event (in Japan) since the nationals last December," she admits. "It has been a long time.

"I don't think my age is the reason I struggled. I believe the change in the rules is. I knew the old rules well, but the new ones are very different and I have to get my body to adjust to the new rules."

Suguri, who won the Grand Prix Final in 2003, is known for her outstanding presentation skills on the ice. She says this is what she enjoys most about her profession.

"I am really interested in the artistic part more than the sports side, but the best part about figure skating is that these two elements work in tandem," she says. "I like the combination of the two.

"I want to put more acting into my programs. I want to bring more storytelling into my skating," she adds.

The lithe Suguri acknowledges that jumping is not her greatest prowess, but doesn't let that hold her back.

"The younger skaters have more skill at jumping, but I always like to build something (an artistic program), and that keeps me going."

Still in good condition after such a long career, Suguri could make a run at the 2010 Vancouver Games if she so desires. In fact, many in the Japanese skating community think she will.

"I am just going to take it one year at a time now," she says with a smile.

While not ready to hang up her skates just yet, Suguri, now living and training in Moscow under coach Alexander Zhulin, admits she has given thought to what she will do when the day does arrive.

"I want to do some work related to skating," she says. "Maybe shows, maybe coaching, maybe choreography. I don't know yet, but I really want to be involved with skating."

Suguri seems to fit the profile of a future coach: a solid, but not spectacular skater, who has worked hard to achieve what she has.

"I want to share what I have learned," she says. "I struggled with my technique (over the years). I would like to share with the next generation (of skaters)."

When asked what she looks for in a coach, Suguri took a moment to ponder the question before replying.

"Someone who can manage and pack a very beautiful present or a very pretty picture. It's the whole package," Suguri concludes. "It's not only technique, it's not only mental, it's not only skating. They have to teach how we should act as people as well."

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