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Yuka Sato

“when you love something, when you believe in yourself,
that’s when you do something amazing.”

Amidst the heavy demands on her schedule, Olympian and World Champion Skater, Yuka Sato found time in between training, coaching and working as a commentator to speak with Chopsticks NY about the current emerging skaters, demands of working in an international arena and gives a glimpse of what viewers can expect in the 2009 season of Stars on Ice.

How does it feel being the only Japanese member of such an international community as Stars on Ice?
I guess I never really thought about it that way as I’m the only one Japanese person.  When I’m doing interviews like this today this is when it makes me feel I am very proud to be Japanese. I’ve relocated from Japan and sometimes I did have that homesickness but now this is home for me.  This is such a great place to live – the United States – and I’ve learned so much and I’m doing really well and I want to inspire others to see if they can do the same.

Your performance is perceived as a very elegant performance.  Is it something related to cultural background or personality?
I think it’s more of a personality.  Number 1, I love to skate. You just really want to be friendly to the ice and you have to become one with it. I love music and to express what the music says on the ice.

Is there anything that helped you to be in this international environment?
Well, it was certainly difficult for me; the language barrier was huge. I was fortunate enough that, as a little child, I had a babysitter who taught me English.  I’d forgotten about it but when I started training in Canada – since I was 16 years old – I think things started to come back slowly.  Now I’m able to communicate freely with the people that I work with and my husband, which is important. I think for the Japanese skaters who wish to work internationally this is really one thing that’s required: to learn a second language.  But it happens. It comes. You just have to take time and keep trying.

Speaking of Stars on Ice, what can viewers look forward to in your 2009 season?
This year the title is “On the Edge – The Heart of the Champion.” And it’s just what it says in the title.  ‘On the edge’ meaning you take yourself to the limit and… at the same time, the edge of the circles, the edgy things we do in figure skating.  We want to have good quality as skaters – rather than just entertain the audience – but, at the same time, we are polished.

They [director, Jeff Billings, and choreographers, Cindy Stuart and Chucky Klapow] have used what we do well – our athleticism and artistic side as well – and combined those two worlds together. To me, that’s a sales point:  what is most beautiful about skating. The speed and beauty together is what makes it more special.

Were any of your fellow Stars on Ice cast members your role models?
As a child, this was my goal and big dream to be part of Stars on Ice.  I was only what, 13 maybe, a child, really.  I have family friends in Sacramento [California] and they always sent my parents the videotapes of the American skating shows and competitions and from there on I was somehow really inspired by Stars on Ice which was started by Scott Hamilton.  The first year that I toured, Scott Hamilton and Kristi Yamaguchi were still in the cast.  Scott was obviously my biggest inspiration. He’s such an entertainer on the ice.  Kristi Yamaguchi is the hardest working person on this planet.  As a person, you look up to her so much.  My first few seasons as a professional have just been an unbelievable experience.

You are coaching young skaters as well.  Could you comment on the amateur skaters coming out of Japan these days?
They’re amazing! [Laughs] I’ve never seen this many good Japanese skaters within the whole team.  Everywhere they go, they’re always medaling. Anybody could win anything.  That’s just quite strong.

Who are some of the skaters that the world should watch?
Definitely Mao Asada, Miki Ando and Yukari Nakano.  For the guys, Daisuke [Takahashi], Nobunari Oda, Takahiko Kozuka… You know, when the youngsters gain momentum, something amazing happens so I’m really looking forward to that!

What advice do you have for young, aspiring figure skaters today?
I believe that when you love something, when you believe in yourself, that’s when you do something amazing.  I want the kids to remember that you always have to believe in yourself and never give up.

You are so tiny!  I’d like to know your secret to having that energy and power?
Sleep well, eat well, and laugh a lot and be happy.  At times, with our schedule, it’s very difficult to stay healthy. We’re so close together when one person gets sick, boy, we just pass that around so quickly and we have to be very careful.

What is something that you would want your fans to know about you?
On the ice, I just love to skate. I am so fortunate that something that I love to do is my job.  Being able to skate under spotlights every single night all winter long is just wonderful.  As a person, I’m just a normal person, who likes to shop, likes to visit New York City.  I do laundry. I cook – a little bit, not very good.  You know, normal life.

Which place in Japan would you recommend to Chopsticks NYTM readers?
Well, I’m from Tokyo and Tokyo is a fun place.  Very historical places like Kyoto, Nara are amazing.  It’s such a neat country so I think they should enjoy that.  On top of that, the food is great. One place I’ve never been to is Okinawa and I’d love to visit.  I hear that, for someone who scuba dives, Okinawa is one of those places to go.

——— Interview by Lisa Birzen

YUKA SATO Born in Tokyo on Valentine’s Day 1973, Yuka Sato, 1994 World Skating Champion, has been skating her way into audiences’ hearts ever since emerging onto the skating scene and, for seven seasons, she has been delighting and dazzling audiences in the popular show, Stars on Ice.  She was first coached by her parents, Olympians, Nobuo and Kumiko Sato.  She now lives with her husband, U.S. Pair Champion, Jason Dungjen, near Detroit, Michigan where she coaches young, promising skaters of today.  In January, one of her students, Alissa Czisny, won the 2009 U.S. Figure Skating Championship.

Stars On Ice 2009
On the Edge: The Heart of the Champion

Produced by the legendary ice skater, Scott Hamilton, Stars on Ice features Olympic-, World- and National Champions and has a worldwide audience.  Yuka Sato, former Olympian and World Champion, joins the 2009 cast in her seventh season on the show.  Other featured skaters include Sasha Cohen, Iliya Kulik and Todd Eldredge.  Stars on Ice 2009 – On the Edge: The Heart of the Champion is scheduled to return from its world tour this month.

For more information on the show and the skaters,
visit www.starsonice.com

Chopsticks NY readers will recieve a special discount on the shows marked with an asterisk ( * ) on the calendar listed below. To obtain discounted tickets, go to www.starsonice.com, and enter the promotional code: tokubetsu in the Promotions and Special Offers section which appears after you’ve selected a city to attend the show.
Info: soi-tokubetsu@imgworld.com

Tour Schedule in the North East
March 6: VERIZON CENTER, Washington, DC*
March 13: WACHOVIA CENTER, Philadelphia, PA
March 14: DUNKIN’ DONUTS CENTER, Providence, RI
March 15: XL CENTER, Hartford, CT
March 21: MELLON ARENA, Pittsburgh, PA
March 26: WACHOVIA ARENA AT CASEY PLAZA, Wilkes Barre, PA
March 27: NASSAU VETERANS MEMORIAL COLISEUM, Long Island, NY*
March 28: IZOD CENTER, East Rutherford, NJ*
March 29: TIMES UNION CENTER, Albany, NY
April 3: GIANT CENTER, Hershey, PA
April 4: ARENA AT HARBOR YARD, Bridgeport, CT
April 5: TD BANKNORTH GARDEN, Boston, MA*