While international Speed Skating Events are on hold due to COVID-19 restrictions, coach Johan de Wit keeps the Japanese team’s spirits high and has ambition “We’re one of the best [Speed Skating] countries in the world and we want to show ourselves.”
Johan De Wit at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (NED) 2017©International Skating Union (ISU)
Back in July de Wit left his native country the Netherlands, to re-join his skaters in Japan. A two-week quarantine had to be observed before he could get to work and prepare the new season with strict sanitary measures in place: “Of course we do have to take all the precautionary measures, such as washing our hands and having our temperature taken when we enter training facilities or restaurants. And everybody wears a face mask of course. The only time Speed Skaters don’t have to wear it, is when they’re on the ice.”
Over the summer the Japanese team relocated a lot of equipment from their gyms, because they were not allowed to train in public buildings due to the COVID-restrictions. “We moved to other places where we were allowed and able to train in small groups.” Said de Wit “Gradually we could increase the number of athletes who could train together, and now we can train with the whole team on the ice. It has not really hampered our preparations.”
Team Japan at the ISU World Single Distances Speed Skating Championships 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
The Japanese team is hesitant about travelling abroad because the virus seems to be under control in Japan at the moment, however they do feel sad about the cancellation of international competitions in the first part of the 2020/21 Speed Skating calendar. But all the training during the summer was not in vain, as they had the Japanese national Championships to prepare for.
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Although the national Championships no longer served as qualification races for the ISU World Cup Speed Skating season, the Japanese skaters entered the rink in Nagano well-prepared and ready to perform their best. “This was a peak moment early in the season anyway,” De Wit explains. “There was a lot of media attention, there was a decent crowd in the stands, albeit with empty spots every other seat of course.”
Miho Takagi and Sietaro Ichinohe won two gold medals each, and Misaki Oshigiri celebrated her comeback after three troublesome years with the Ladies’ 3000m title. “I half-jokingly told some friends that this may have been the best tournament I’ve ever had as a coach,” Japan national manager Johan de Wit (NED) said.
With Yuma Murakami and Tatsuya Shinhama Japan has two of the world’s fastest sprinters and De Wit thinks they will be up for the challenge against reigning 500m and 1000m world champion Pavel Kulizhnikov (RUS) this season. “We haven’t seen anything from Kulizhnikov yet, but Yuma Murakami and Tatsuya Shinhama are world class. Our data shows that they’re better than last year.”
Strong generation of skaters to come
De Wit keeps his eye on the horizon looking for future talent and Junior skater Motonaga Arito (JPN) is looking promising when he won the national 10,000m title in 13.28,94. “You’d better write down that name,” De Wit said proudly. “He’s exceptionally talented. Last year he was not so good at the World Junior Championships because he was exhausted after having raced almost every week in high school competitions, but this year he’s part of the national training program and the World Junior Championships are his main goal.
Nao Kodaira (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating Final 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
“At the moment we have a lot of international world class Skaters, Men and Ladies alike. We do have to look for talent particularly in the Ladies’ short distances. At the moment we have Nao Kodaira, Maki Tsuji, and Arisa Go, but they’re all well in their thirties and they will not be around forever. Konami Soga (25) is becoming better and better and Moe Kumagai (19) is one of the younger prodigies, who might be up and coming.”
Konami Soga and Miho Takagi (JPN) at the ISU World Cup Speed Skating (JPN) 2020©International Skating Union (ISU)
The future of Speed Skating in Japan is looking bright and once the international season takes place again, the national team will be able to show off their hard work.