Lausanne, Switzerland


When you have a passion, it doesn’t matter where you come from and where you have to go. You follow your dream even if it means you have to leave your home and move to a foreign country which language you don’t speak and that has a very different culture. And when you share your passion with someone, it can become love.

GP JPN Misato Komatsuba and Tim Koleto 2017©International Skating Union (ISU) 873089036

Misato Komatsuba and Tim Koleto at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Osaka (JPN) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)

This is what happened to Japanese ice dancer Misato Komatsubara and her American partner Tim Koleto. They travelled the globe to pursue their passion and they found each other. 

JFSC JPN Misato Komatsuba and Tim Koleto (JPN) 2016©Getty Images 630452796

Misato Komatsuba and Tim Koleto (JPN) at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships (JPN) 2016©Getty Images

Misato left her ho  metown Osaka to skate with Italian Andrea Fabbri (the younger brother of Italian ice dancer Marco Fabbri) in Milan in 2013 and represented Italy. It was a whole new life for her. “I started to be an international skater with Barbara [Fusar-Poli, coach]. I was also skating in international competition as a Japanese skater, but at a really low level. I didn’t know anything. I didn’t speak English. So I learned the language. I learned how to connect with people. I was really shy – let’s say: ‘really Japanese’. Barbara and Stefano [Caruso] they opened me. As an ice dancer I don’t think shy is good. I learned how to do make-up – in a cute way, a little bit sexy, stronger which I want to see as an ice dancer,” the 26-year-old shared. With Fabbri, Komatsubara competed at the ISU European Figure Skating Championships in 2015 and 2016 as well as in other international events.

FCFSC Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto 2018©AFP 908989812

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto ISU at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships 2018©AFP

Tim started out in the USA, later competed with Yura Min for Korea, and then skated with Thea Rabe from Norway. End of 2015 he came with his previous partner to Milan to train there in between two competitions in Europe. This is how he met Misato for the first time. “So, we met and we had a lot of fun there and the following year we were both looking for partners in the spring. Barbara [Fusar-Poli, coach] and I contacted each other and she said: ‘Why don’t you come round?’,” the now 27-year-old said.

Koleto agreed quickly and Komatsbura was also interested in trying out. However, the start in spring 2016 was bumpy – Tim arrived in Milan, but without his luggage and without skates. ”So we had much time to talk about what our goals were for skating. We had off-ice practice trying lifts and we could speak a lot to each other and that made us feel closer. When his skates arrived, we skated together immediately,” Misato recalled.

View this post on Instagram


A post shared by Tim Koleto (@timkoleto) on

They both felt right away that it was the perfect match. And it was not only a match on the ice, but also off the ice. Soon Misato and Tim fell in love with each other, knowing that a relationship on and off the ice can be complicated. “We didn’t know what to do. If we argue off-ice we try not to bring that on the ice. But skating is also life so why not try to make them both better and mix it,” Komatsubara explained. “Yes, in the beginning we tried to keep it separate between our private life and our work life,” Koleto agreed. “It is challenging to work and live together. It took some time to balance that but, as she said, now we really integrate everything whereas before we tried to separate and balance those times. We let it feed our relationship both on and off the ice and I feel it has been more healthy for us,” he continued. They got married in January 2017.

GP RUS Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1062309556

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating Rostelecom Cup (RUS)2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

The dancers believe that their private relationship is an advantage. “When we do Love Story as our Free Dance it feels more natural – sometimes I get so emotional I cry – but I think that is an advantage rather than not to feel anything,” Misato noted. “I think that it’s a communication thing also,” her partner agreed. “Because we are together 98% of the time, it allows us to communicate and work through things because, with everything, there are easy things to work through and difficult things to work through and, especially, as this is only our third season together it gives us a lot more time together to work through stuff. So, I think, that’s also why it has started to get easier once we stopped trying to separate the home and the work life because we would bring it home and we would talk about it and say: ’this is how I felt today’. It really ended up developing an intimacy that we could then bring to the rink,” he continued.

GP JPN Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto 2017©International Skating Union (ISU) 873089098

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Osaka (JPN) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)

It leads sometimes to some fun moments in their family life. “It’s funny that, even in the kitchen, we are watching TV or something at one moment and then suddenly: ‘about that twizzle!’,” Misato shared with a laugh. “There’s been more than one occasion walking through something in the house, trying to work something out for the next day,” Tim confirmed.

GP FIN  Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto (JPN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1060040302

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating in Helsinki (FIN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

They don’t see any disadvantages in being a couple off the ice. Just sometimes they need a little time for themselves. “Sometimes we take a couple of hours on Sunday and she’ll go window shop and I will go and walk around the city because it can be a lot of time with another person because, we were together all the time,” Koleto pointed out. “It took a while also to understand that like, in the beginning, we would say: ‘OK, I’m going out to the city today because I just need some space. Nothing’s wrong, I just want to go walk’. Now we just know. I don’t think it is really a disadvantage but it just took time to understand how to manage also the time apart.”

Following the 2017/18 season, Komatsubara/Koleto decided to change coaches and moved to Montréal in Canada to join the school of Marie-France Dubreuil and Patrice Lauzon. The dancers were impressed when they met Tessa Virtue/Scott Moir, Madison Hubbell/Zachary Donohue, Laurence Fournier Beaudry/Nikolaj Sørensen and Marie-Jade Lauriault/Romain Le Gac at NHK Trophy in 2017. “Whether on or off-ice they were so nice and mature with each other that we got shocked and thought: ‘are we competing?’. We wanted to be part of it and we wanted to learn what’s the secret to be like that,” Misato recalled. “It was a very different energy for us and was surprising,” Tim added. “It was very clear that there was something different about that school. So we said: ‘OK, if we ever feel like we want to change then let’s see if we can go there.’”

Although they enjoyed working with Fusar Poli and Caruso, they made the move. It meant changing continents again and also a new language, since French is widely spoken in Montréal. They adjusted quickly. “Montreal is kind of a nice half way point between North America and Europe. It has a European feel to the city. There is an old port. So in that sense it was a pretty comfortable lifestyle change. Especially, also, since I am American to be able to speak English a little more freely in the street and get around if I was in trouble or needed directions it is much easier,” Koleto noted. His wife was glad to meet Japanese teammates Rikaku Fukase and Aru Tateno, who also were training in Montréal at the time. “I had never talked in Japanese in the ice rink and now I have friends who speak my language,” she shared.

FCFSC Misato Komatsubara and Tim Kolato 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 909936792

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto ISU at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

Since Rostelecom Cup, the couple has been training in Japan with Rie Arikawa in order to fulfil a residency requirement for Koleto. He hopes to apply for Japanese citizenship next year so that the couple will be eligible for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games in Beijing, which is their ultimate goal.

FCFSC Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto (JPN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 909456048

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto ISU at the Four Continents Figure Skating Championships 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

Komatsubara learned English and Italian when she moved to Milan. “Language-wise it was hard in the beginning. There were so many fights in my brain and there were no other Japanese there so I should learn the language. But, day by day, as I could speak more I felt more comfortable,” Misato explained. Her husband enjoys studying Japanese. “It’s been really fun. In the past I learned a little bit of Korean. So as far as the particles and the sentence structure – there’s a lot of similarities in the grammar. That allowed me a little bit of a head start on how to create sentences but it’s still a challenge. Reading and writing is a long road, but I’m on the road and that’s a good sign. I enjoy it and I’m starting to find more specific words that don’t have a direct translation and, I think, that’s one of the most exciting things about learning a new language is finding those words that have a special meaning. It’s funny because we sometimes still use the Italian words or English or Japanese – we’re a full mix and now the French is coming in. So we take all of those pieces and we put them in a little ‘Team KoKo’ puzzle and it’s always fun to learn a language because we find new ways of communication which is such an integral part of partnership,” Koleto explained.

GP NHK Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1060067144

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy (JPN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

When he went to Norway to skate with Thea Rabe, he also picked up a few words of the Scandinavian language. “Norway is so beautiful. I was lucky to go there. It’s so lovely and the people there are so sweet. That’s probably my favourite part of skating: how it’s taken us to different parts of the world and opened our minds – it not just allowed our personal relationship to happen but continues to fill me with new experiences and changes the way I think about the world which, I think, is so important”, he concluded.

GP NHK Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto 2018©International Skating Union (ISU) 1060244944

Misato Komatsubara and Tim Koleto at the ISU Grand Prix of Figure Skating NHK Trophy (JPN) 2018©International Skating Union (ISU)

Three things Misato and Tim would take if sent to an isolated island:

Tim: “I have to take my lap-top, cause I’m a writer. Let’s take a sleeping bag – a really good one! I’ve seen enough survival shows to know that you need like a machete or some kind of big knife to cut open some coconuts.”

Misato: “I’m going to bring: my medicine; a survival book so that I have enough knowledge on what I should do. Scissors and skates. I want to bring people but that’s not allowed.”

Follow Misato and Tim on social media

Instagram: missatooo; timkoleto

Twitter: miichan728; timkoleto

Facebook: TeamKoKo