Ice Network

Kozuka gets touching send-off at 'Stars on Ice'

2011 world silver medalist says farewell to skating at show in Tokyo
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In a fitting gesture, Takahiko Kozuka skated to a song called "Epilogue" during his farewell performance. -Getty Images

A pouring rain accompanied by strong wind left everyone in Tokyo wet and battered last Sunday, April 17, but those conditions couldn't stop thousands of figure skating fans from showing up at Yoyogi National Stadium to attend the last show of the Stars On Ice Japan tour.

The show was headlined by several Olympic and world champions -- Tessa Virtue and Scott Moir, Shizuka Arakawa, Mao Asada, Patrick Chan, Daisuke Takahashi, Javier Fernández, Meagan Duhamel and Eric Radford -- but the hero of the day was Takahiko Kozuka, former world silver medalist and Japanese champion, who performed his "last dance" as a skater and said farewell to the ice.

Kozuka was born into a figure skating family. His grandfather, Mitsuhiko Kozuka, was the co-founder of the Aichi Skating Federation and Nagoya Sports Center, and helped to lay the foundation of the sport in the city known as the kingdom of figure skating in Japan. His father, Tsuguhiko, was a three-time Japanese champion and an Olympian; his mother, Sachiko, was an ice dancer.

A competitor on the senior circuit for the last decade, Kozuka had his greatest success in 2010-11, when he won both of his Grand Prix events, took the bronze at the Grand Prix Final, won his first (and only) Japanese title and capped off the campaign by claiming the silver at the 2011 World Championships.

The depth of the Japanese men's field, coupled with tendinitis in his left ankle, led to Kozuka's decline the last few years. Still, the Nagoya native achieved some personal milestones recently. In February, he married Yukari Oshima, a newscaster for Fuji TV. The following month, he graduated from Chukyo University, where his main training rink is located, receiving a master's degree in physical education.

On March 15, Kozuka quietly announced on his blog that he would officially retire from competitive skating at the end of March.

"As for the future, I will leave the ice rink behind, and start my new life as an employee of Toyota Motor Corporation," he wrote.

For his farewell performance, he wore a simple white shirt with glittering decoration. Kozuka chose the aptly named song "Epilogue" by Ryuichi Sakamoto as the music for this first performance. The piano ballad served as a perfect vehicle to demonstrate his skating skills, which were always among the most outstanding in the men's field, as he flowed across the ice to the music. While the triple lutz and double axel in the performance were beautifully done, his footwork stood out the most, especially his trademark spread eagle.

When the last note ended, everyone in the stadium stood up to cheer. His fans raised banners with his name and words of thanks; many of them burst into tears.

Kozuka made a second appearance, during the finale of the show. After the group number, he took a selfie at the entrance of the rink, with the ice and audience as the background. He then came to the center of the ice, surrounded by his fellow skaters, and the brief retirement ceremony began. He shared a message with the fans.

"This is Kozuka from Toyota Motor. Thank you all for supporting me for 23 years. It was a really enjoyable skating life, but the most enjoyable part for me is that I was able to spend all these years with you. It became a wonderful memory.

"I need to thank my parents and my coaches, but I need to thank you more for keeping cheering for me, so that I was able to keep skating. From now on, I will become one of you, and cheer for the sport of figure skating, as a fan. Thank you very much!"

After his speech, Nobuo Sato and Kumiko Sato, his coaches since primary school, entered the rink and presented him with a flower bouquet. At the end of the ceremony, Nobuo clapped his student on the shoulder before he left the ice, as if to see him off for his new life. Some of the skaters on the ice, like Mao Asada, who trains at the same rink as Kozuka, and Daisuke Takahashi, his longtime rival and teammate, held back tears.

Backstage after the show, Kozuka told the media, "Coach Sato said to me, 'From now on, please work hard as a freshman of society.'''

Then, with tears in his eyes, he said, "I will start from zero, but I will work hard."

Other highlights of the show

While the season was over for most skaters, some took advantage of the opportunity to prepare for upcoming competitions. Satoko Miyahara, Shoma Uno, and Kaitlyn Weaver and Andrew Poje, who competed at Team Challenge Cup last week, performed their complete free programs without skipping an element.

Miyahra impressed the crowd by delivering another squeaky-clean performance. Despite a near-fall on the landing of his opening quad toe, Uno stunned the audience by attempting a quad flip in the second half of his Turandot program. In recent months, he has been practicing new quads, including salchow, loop and flip. Although he fell Sunday, he landed a flip in the show Saturday. (Editor's note: This was a sign of things to come, as Uno landed a quad flip in each of his programs at Team Challenge Cup.)

Duhamel and Radford also looked very strong in their exhibition number. Even though the Japanese audience is not as knowledgeable about pairs as it is about singles, the two-time world champions received a standing ovation for their acrobatic pairs elements and high-quality execution.