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Sunday, July 3, 2011

ICE TIME

Desire to inspire prompted Ito's return


With her storied career part of figure skating history, 1989 world champion and 1992 Olympic silver medalist Midori Ito has nothing to prove, but her wish to influence others was the prime motivation behind her recent comeback.

JACK GALLAGHER

Ito, 15 years removed from her last competition, placed second behind Canada's Jan Calnan in the masters elite women's II event at the adult world championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, last month.

Before departing, Ito met the media and provided some insight into her feelings about pulling on the boots again.

"I've never taken part in this competition, this is an event established not only for the former figure skaters but for ordinary people who enjoy figure skating as a lifetime sport.

"I haven't competed in any international or official competitions since 1996, and, of course, I know my athletic ability and techniques are not as good as before. But, as a 41-year-old, I just want to enjoy skating, and show people how wonderful this sport is."

Ito, the first female to land a triple axel in competition, detailed how teaching skating for the past several years had revealed a whole new view on the sport for her.

News photo
Still got it: Midori Ito skated competitively for the first time since 1996 when she took the ice at the adult world championships in Oberstdorf, Germany, last month. YOSHIE NOGUCHI PHOTO

"I knew about this event, but had no intention to compete," she said. "For the last four or five years, I have been holding the figure skating classes from Hokkaido to Kyushu. First, I expected many kids would come to the classes, but I found there were also a lot of adults who wanted to learn figure skating. Some are just beginners, and others had figure skating experiences as kids and want to resume it. I was surprised that so many adults are interested in figure skating."

The Nagoya native noted that the great run of Japanese skaters over the past several years has had a profound effect on the millions of fans who tune in to watch them compete.

"We have Mao Asada, Miki Ando, Daisuke Takahashi competing on the world's top level, but for some adults, figure skating is no longer a sport just to watch," Ito stated. "They want to perform themselves. And I realize you don't have to start figure skating when you are a kid. It is not too late to start as an adult. This is why I decided to compete in the official events again."

Ito landed a double axel in Germany and finished behind the 45-year-old Calnan, a skating coach, who actually represented the United States because there are no masters events in Canada.

Calnan scored 69.97 to Ito's 64.43 to win the gold and was clearly overwhelmed by the result.

"When someone pointed out that I had a higher score than Midori, I couldn't believe it," she told the Ottawa Citizen. "Then I felt guilty about it. You're not supposed to win against an icon. I still feel a bit guilty, but I am coming to terms with it all."

Despite finishing second, Ito clearly enjoyed participating in the event and is hopeful that her presence will raise its profile and stimulate greater interest in skating.

"I hope more people get to know about this tournament, and I really hope that a lot more skaters and former athletes will participate in it from next year," she said. "And hopefully more people will find new attractions of figure skating."

News photo
Revelation: Midori Ito, the 1989 world champion, was surprised to learn in recent years that a significant number of adults are interested in participating in figure skating. YOSHIAKI MIURA PHOTO

Pressure defined: With the International Olympic Committee vote for the right to host the 2018 Winter Games just days away, Pyeongchang, South Korea, is the favorite and pushing hard to cross the finish line first.

Vancouver Olympic gold medalist Kim Yu Na is the face of the bid and has been prominent in the media in recent weeks.

Kim was the featured guest on CNN's "Talk Asia" program this week and said the stress from the bid's recent presentation to the IOC was greater than any she has ever felt on the ice.

"During the preparation for the presentation in Switzerland, I felt that I had the weight of my country on my shoulders," she said. "I thought my heart would pop out during the presentation. The nervousness was nothing compared to the performances.

"Until then, I had only taken care of myself. The thought of having the expectations of the whole country on my shoulders worried and unnerved me. But, all in all, my teammates and I were happy that the presentation ended well. And I hope our efforts means it ends in our favor."



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