Takahashi, Tran 'surprised' to win world bronze

Japanese pair feel they are pioneers of their sport in their country

Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran embrace after their bronze-medal-winning free skate.
Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran embrace after their bronze-medal-winning free skate. (Getty Images)


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By Jean-Christophe Berlot, special to
(03/31/2012) - Narumi Takahashi and Mervin Tran made history Friday night, becoming the first Japanese pair to ever medal at the World Figure Skating Championships. They kindly took the time to speak about that special moment they lived here in Nice, the way they prepared for it and the way they want to contribute to pairs skating. So, how do you feel now, after one night?

Takahashi: We are very happy, because we did not expect to medal here. It's almost a surprise.

Tran: We knew we had a chance, but other teams who placed behind us in the short program were more experienced than us -- they have scored higher than us -- so we knew we could not afford any mistakes. You may have had a lot of pressure on your shoulders, especially since you were skating last, with the main favorites skating before you?

Takahashi: Actually, I am a big fan of Tatiana [Volosozhar, who won the silver medal with Maxim Trankov]. She skated good, and that made me happy. I felt encouraged by her skate.

Tran: When I drew to skate last, I told myself, "Whoa, this is going to be interesting." I do not like to skate last, but it has happened so many times. So I just thought about what I usually think at that time before a competition: I went through my program in my mind, focused and thought of things I can have control over.

Takahashi: Also, after our six-minute warm-up, we had a discussion together. Mervin told me that we could not defend [our bronze small medal], and that we needed to attack, especially since the fourth-place team [Russia's Vera Bazarova and Yuri Larionov] was so strong.

Tran: And then Narumi told me, "Winning the short program small medal is already a huge accomplishment, so we have nothing to lose." After she said that, I felt completely calm. "If that's the mindset," I told myself, "Then we'll go for it." And we did. Nervousness disappeared right away.

Takahashi: (Smiling) We supported each other! How do you cope with your different backgrounds? (Tran is Canadian-born with Chinese ancestry, and Takahashi was born in Chiba, Japan, but lived in China.)

Tran: One of the main differences for me is that the Japanese people are always very much on time. Everything is very structured. When you ask for a taxi, they are there at the precise minute. 8:00 is not 8:05, whereas in Canada it's always plus or minus.

Takahashi: My mother lives in Canada. Since I was little, I grew up in several different countries, so I am used to adapting to different environments. The main difficulty for me was to adjust to weekends. In Canada, we don't practice on Saturdays and Sundays, so it's two days off, whereas in Japan, we train from Monday to Sunday. At the beginning, I needed three days to come back into the ice after two days off. Now I gotten used to it. What is your approach to pairs skating?

Takahashi: We see our choreographer, Julie Marcotte, a lot, so as to make sure that we keep the same pattern.

Tran: We don't just muscle through things. Our choreographer is very special. She is not someone we hire for just one thing. We have a special relationship with her. She has been an important factor for us. She is very engaged. Technically, we work on our lifts with Bruno [Marcotte, Julie's brother]. Everything we do with him is top-notch. Richard [Gauthier, former coach of 2002 Olympic gold medalists Jamie Salé and David Pelletier, who also coaches them] probably has higher standards than most judges concerning death spirals and spins. So altogether our coaches know what we need to do, and they make sure that we have the right standard.

Thanks to them, we usually get Level 4s on most of our elements. (Friday night they got Level 4s on all their elements, except their final spin and Lutz twist, the latter of which got Level 3 and was the best in the field along with that of Barazova and Larionov.) That makes us quite a dangerous team for our competitors!

Takahashi: (Enthusiastic) I love pairs because it is dangerous! Well, I don't think it is dangerous, but everybody thinks it is when they go "Haan!" during our programs. I like the adrenaline. Pairs are more fun to skate every day, because you have a partner to talk with. (She thinks for a while, then smiles.) Although I do not need to talk!

Tran: Also, pairs has so many different aspects to it. In singles, you have jumps, steps and spins. In pairs, you have also jumps, steps and spins, but you also have combination spins, death spirals, twists and lifts. I love lifts, but my favorite element is the death spiral. It may sound silly, but I like the feeling of the tension and the curves.

Icenetwork: You also skate very artistically. How do you develop that aspect?

Tran: Craig [Buntin, who used to skate with Meagan Duhamel, who was fifth here with Eric Radford] was athletic, but he had a dancer's approach, and that inspired me. We try hard to be like that. I love ice dancing. It is so intricate, and yet ice dancers manage to make it look so simple.

Takahashi: Me, too. Actually, we also work with Sylvie Fullum, who is another dance coach. She often sees us to polish up our programs.

Tran: We work on the "in-between" stuff with Sylvie. In our programs, we always try to avoid crossovers. We prefer to have cross rolls or three turns. Before a lift, we will add no more than three crossovers. That helps us improve our components, too. So, now you have made history for Japan?

Tran: We are very honored to represent Japan. The Japanese federation has always supported us, right from the start. It's easy to look at it now and say, "Oh yes, but they are talented." But at the beginning, we were coming from nothing, and Japan has always supported us.

It's exciting to be the first ones to medal. It's like we're pioneers of something. You know, there are no reasons why Japan could not become a leading nation in pairs skating. Actually, girls are tiny there (he laughs), and some boys are big enough.

Takahashi: People don't do pairs because there is no ice there. You need to move to a university if you want to train. Sometimes you have to wait for one month to find ice!

Tran: When we are in Japan ourselves, it's tough for us to find ice, whereas in the U.S. or Canada, it is so much easier. Will you have flocks of journalists following you everywhere, just like Mao Asada and Daisuke Takahashi have?

Takahashi: We don't know yet! Sometimes we get recognized, but nothing too much yet.

Tran: But after this ... I'll look forward to being in Japan again to find out! What do you plan to do with your day, now that the competition is over?

Tran: We have a very busy day, with a press conference at 11:00 a.m. and then our medal ceremony at 5:00 p.m. At first I thought I would go to Monaco with a moped, but now I have no more time for that!