Sakamoto Kaori has some unfinished business to take care of at this week’s ISU World Figure Skating Championships.
“I’m not that caught up on going back-to-back. What’s bigger to me is getting revenge from four years ago,” Sakamoto said on Monday (20 March) following her first practice at the Saitama Super Arena.
“I wouldn’t go as far as to say I’ve been pressing myself. But it’s made me a little bit tense the past week or so.”
Sakamoto would be referring to her world championships debut in 2019, also held in Saitama.
The then 19-year-old was in second after the short program but in the free, singled a triple flip that placed her fifth in the end.
Not the ideal finish Sakamoto was expecting given all the work she had put in.
“Back then, I was only in my second season as a senior,” she recalled. “I’ve had a few years under my belt since then including an Olympic Games.
“I can lean on the experience to understand what to do when. I’d say that is the biggest difference compared to four years ago.
“I pushed and pushed myself like no other, trying to somehow squeeze every drop out of myself. In terms of preparation, I felt like I’d done everything I can for those world championships. I thought I was pretty solid technique, skill wise.
“I made so few mistakes in practise that when I made them in competition, it really hurt.”
Sakamoto heads into Wednesday’s short program as not only the defending champion but as an Olympic medallist (bronze) from Beijing 2022.
With these worlds being her fourth, she is also being counted on to lead and counsel Japan’s female trio including her close friend/training partner Mihara Mai and Watanabe Rinka.
Mihara – who is expected to challenge Sakamoto for the top podium spot – is taking the world stage after a six-year absence while Watanabe will be making her debut at the competition.
If the stars align, a 1-2-3 Japanese finish would not be a farfetched dream.
“This is the pinnacle of my season,” said Mihara, the Grand Prix Final champion. “I feel strong about where I am – and I’m confident.
“I just have to let it all out. I want to give each and every second everything I’ve got, and have fun doing it.”
Added Skate Canada winner Watanabe, “I’m excited, mostly. I want to enjoy being fortunate enough to be here.
“If I can stay calm and not lose sight of myself, I think I’ll be OK.”
OK, however, probably won’t be good enough for Sakamoto who is out for nothing less than another shiny gold in front of the home fans.
“I want a perfect performance in both the short and free this time. That is my way of evening the score,” she said.
“(The wound) is still there. I didn’t think I could be any more prepared than I was but I still screwed up. I couldn’t get the job done when the chips were down. “Same competition, same place. I have an opportunity here to right what went wrong.
“Four years ago, I was crying in practice because I was so nervous in the days leading up to competition.
“Let’s just say that this year – it’s my fourth time – I have more confidence than concerns.”
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