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Nakano still determined to achieve more on the ice

At 22, Skate Canada silver medalist still fighting

Yukari Nakano finished second at Skate Canada in Quebec City in early November.
Yukari Nakano finished second at Skate Canada in Quebec City in early November. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, icenetwork.com Japan correspondent
(11/23/2007) - After seeing compatriot Shizuka Arakawa become the oldest women's singles gold medalist ever, at 25 years old, at the 2006 Winter Olympics in Turin, Italy, Yukari Nakano knew she still had time to reach the pinnacle of her sport.

The second-place finisher at Skate Canada in October, the 22-year-old Nakano is searching for that little bit extra that will vault her to the next level.

"Technically speaking, I have to work on my presentation skills," the Aichi Prefecture native said during a recent interview. "Mentally, I need more confidence. When I go into a competition, I want to have more confidence. I think that will bring me to the next level."

Fans and media who have seen Nakano skate in person surely don't think she is lacking confidence. To the contrary, she seems to be the definition of the word.

"Everybody says the same thing," she notes. "My personality is inward. I don't have a confident personality, inside. There is a battle within for me."

Nakano, who has finished fifth at the last two world championships, has established definitive goals for the current season.

"I want to go to the world championships. I want to succeed with the triple/triple combination (Salchow/loop). Also, I want to land the triple Axel, which I have not since last season.

"I want to make it to the national championships and the Grand Prix Final -- this is the minimum of what I must achieve this season."

Nakano, currently the sixth-ranked female skater in the world, acknowledges that she must constantly battle for exposure in Japan, as the media and sponsors tend to focus on her younger rivals, such as 2007 Skate Canada and Trophee Eric Bompard gold medalist Mao Asada and 2007 world champion Miki Ando.

"The younger generation of skaters is coming up.... In this country [even at only 22] I am in the older generation of skaters."

Nakano, the 2005 NHK Trophy champion, has said in the past that "pressure, not the others skaters, was her biggest rival." She maintains that this is still the case but qualifies her opinion.

"I still feel that pressure is the biggest rival -- not the other skaters. I don't see individual skaters as my competition, but rather the whole field. Of course there is pressure, and I feel it. I have to believe in myself and what I have done in practice."

Nakano says she relies on konjo, which means "inner spirit," to deal with pressure.

Currently majoring in Human Science (which she likens to Educational Psychology) at Tokyo's Waseda University, Nakano keeps a busy schedule with her studies and skating. To make life easier, she lives close by the rink she uses to train.

The runner-up at last season's Cup of China, Nakano is known for her signature "donut" spin. She says it is patterned after 1994 Olympic gold medalist Oksana Baiul.

"All of the other skaters have told me that spins are one of my trademarks, and I am very agile at them. It has only been in the past couple of years that my coach [Nobuo Sato] has told me that I am improving. I have practiced a great deal on all of my spins, not just the donut."

The donut spin is not the only thing Nakano is renowned for. She also has a flair for provocative outfits. Last season's stunner was a sleek, black number that resembled a body suit.

"I have most of my outfits made by a company that does them for the Russian ballet. They are intentionally attention-grabbing," she notes.

Nakano says her mother also designs some of her skating wardrobe.

"She told me, 'The first impression is very important when you go on the ice.' "

When asked, it wasn't hard for Nakano to identify what she enjoys most about skating.

"The response from the audience when I finish my performance is the pinnacle for me. That is what I enjoy the most. That is one of the characteristics of skating. In other sports, it is rare for one individual to be receiving such adulation from the audience."

Many elite skaters find practice and travel can be tiresome, but the toughest part of the sport for Nakano lies elsewhere.

"This might surprise you, but I have been causing trouble for my parents. Financially, and because I am the baby [youngest of three children], they have been looking after me for a long time."

Though she gets support from her family, Nakano doesn't have a sponsor or agent. This presents her with significant challenges.

"I am in the process of trying to find a sponsor. It is not that simple to do. There seems to be a trend [for companies] to go after the younger generation of skaters."

What Nakano may lack in financial backing, she more than makes up for in energy and enthusiasm on the ice. Now if she can just make the final step to world or Grand Prix Final champion, everything should fall into place for her.