Mai Mihara from Japan finished her first season at senior level with two remarkable performances at the ISU World Team Trophy 2017. We interviewed the 17-year-old on the day of exhibition.
(Q= Interviewer Wei Xiong for ISU, M= Mai Mihara)
Q: The last competition of the season has finished, in retrospect, how do you feel about this season overall?
M: I’ve got the opportunities to experience a lot of different things this season, so I think it is the most enjoyable and the happiest season I’ve had so far.
Q: You competed for the first time at a team event, how different is it compared to individual competitions?
M: I felt very happy to be able to participate in this event as part of Team Japan. When I stepped on the ice, I saw my teammates cheering for me in the Kiss & Cry, which really gave me a lot of power. It also made me realize “ah, so this is how the team event feels like.”
Q: What about when you are sitting in the Kiss & Cry cheering for your teammate?
M: It is a lot of fun to cheer for your teammates, to think about some interesting ideas, and just to watch them perform from the Kiss & Cry with everyone in the team. I really enjoyed that.
Q: Did you feel the same pressure as when you compete at individual events?
M: For the Short Program, I just skated as usual without thinking too much. But for the Free Skating, I was the last one to skate for Team Japan and my performance would decide the overall placement. Everyone else from the team did such a good job to put us in the first place, so I thought “I must not make any mistake and waste their efforts” and that got me a bit nervous.
Q: Nevertheless you did a great job, and got 146 points! It is the fourth highest personal best Free Skating score for a lady. What was your fist reaction when you saw the score?
M: I was very surprised. I always wanted to exceed 140 points, but I couldn’t imagine to get a score as high as 146, so I felt really happy.
Q: You finished the event with such a strong note. What does it mean for you looking into next season?
M: Next season will be the Olympic season, and we will need to compete for a spot in the Olympic team. As the first step heading into next season, I felt very satisfied to be able to skate two clean programs in my final competition this season.
Q: In order to prepare for next season, what will you do this summer?
M: I want to polish my presentation, so I will take ballet courses and challenge different things. My goal is to improve my presentation to a competitive level against the top skaters, so I want to pay more attention to my posture, my expression, etc. in my daily training.
Q: You are still so young, but Figure Skating at senior level requires maturity in your skating. What are you working on in order to get a more matured appearance and presentation?
M: Through competing with top skaters this season, I’ve realized that the quality of presentation can be seen from every arm movement, every facial expression, every detail in your performance, and I’ve really learned a lot from them. So now I am more aware of these details when I train, and I hope I can improve little by little.
Q: You mentioned you want to challenge different things. Is there any genre of music or theme that you want to challenge next season?
M: I haven’t decided yet. But this season I have been skating to Cinderella, and this program really made me happy and energized, and I think it also brought me good luck. So next season, I also want to skate to something that gives me a good feeling.
Q: This is your first senior season, but you have achieved good results including winning the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships in February. Could you imagine such achievement before you started the season?
M: Not at all! I could never expect it, and this season is indeed full of surprises. I felt so happy to be able to stand where I was at every competition, and now the season is finished, I can feel nothing by happiness.
Q: What was your goal when you began the season?
M: I wasn’t able to jump at all at the beginning of the season (note: Mihara was badly injured with Arthritis in the first half of 2016 and was recovering during the off-season), so my goal at that time was to exceed myself from the previous season. Well, I’ve got really good scores this season, so I think I’ve achieved my goal.
Q: Figure Skating is so popular in Japan, do you see any change in your personal life since winning those medals?
M: I don’t think my life has changed much, but now after competitions, many friends from school will say hi and congratulate me, which makes me really happy. (No one asks you for signature?) Yes, many people will come to me and ask “could you sign for me?” or “could you take a picture with me?” While taking the pictures, I can’t help but think “so this is what Mao Asada or other great skaters must experience every day!”
Q: You just mentioned Mao Asada. Is she the reason you started skating?
M: Yes. When I watched her performance on TV, I wanted to skate too, so I attended skating lesson.
Q: After you started skating, when did you decide to be a competitive skater?
M: Soon after I took the lesson, there was a small competition. I took part in it and from that time I became determined that I wanted to be an athlete and compete.
Q: Since when did you start to think, “Maybe I can really be competitive even at international level”?
M: No, no, I’ve never thought that. Since the beginning, I skate and train just because I enjoy skating. When it comes to competing at international level, I have been enjoying it since my Junior Grand Prix event. I just mentioned watching Mao Asada on TV, and that was a big international event where she competed with top skaters from all over the world. So when I first competed at the Junior Grand Prix, I felt I was able to experience something similar to Asada and that made me so happy.
Q: What is the most enjoyable thing do you find in skating?
M: I think it is the touch of the ice and how your feet feel different compared to walking on the ground.
Q: And the biggest charm in Figure Skating competitions?
M: At competitions, surrounded by the crowd who are cheering for you, you step on the silvery ice and then you are able to skate to what you like, with freedom. What a fabulous sport!
Q: Do you have a favorite element?
M: I like jumps the most. My favorite is the Lutz.
Q: Since you admire Mao Asada so much, do you want to challenge the triple Axel like her?
M: I really want to try, but doing triple Axles requires stronger muscles and stamina. I must work harder for it.
Q: Thank you very much, and good luck for the future.