Amid what became an emotional spectacle Thursday at the Capital Indoor Stadium in Beijing, the Japanese figure skater Kaori Sakamoto kept the drama at bay as she confidently delivered a powerful performance in the women’s singles free skate to claim bronze at the 2022 Winter Olympics.
Starting the final leg of the event in third place, Sakamoto continued her balanced short program from Tuesday with an uplifting message for women in her four-minute finale, set to music by French artist Imany “No More Fight Left in Me” and “Tris” by Ellie Goulding and Junkie LX from the “Divergent” soundtrack.
“It’s about a woman’s strength, her inner strength, which is hidden inside,” Sakamoto said in November of the program and the track Imany, which is from the documentary “Woman.” “I hope people can feel that through my skating.”
Sakamoto’s choreographer, French Benoit Richaudtold the NBC Olympics reporter Andrea Joyce that “he wanted to create something that celebrated the power of women”.
“First of all, [Richaud] said, she was scared,” Joyce said. “[Sakamoto] thought she didn’t have a strong enough personality for it, but she embraced it and it made her stronger.
The 21-year-old – known for her speed and strength, and with no quad or triple Axel in her repertoire – nailed all of her elements cleanly, opening with a double Axel before hitting a triple Lutz and a triple flip-double toe loop combination. Her score of 153.29 marked a new personal best and briefly lifted her to second place ahead of the Russian Olympic Committee. Anna Shcherbakova17, took first place and another 17-year-old ROC skater Aleksandra Trousova passed in second.
“I wasn’t sure I was going to get another medal,” said Sakamoto, who was also part of Japan’s victory for the bronze medal in the team event at the start of the Games (a medal that didn’t go away). has not yet been awarded after the announcement that Russian Kamila Valieva tested positive for a prohibited substance). “Then I saw my name in third place, I was like, ‘Wow.’ It’s so amazing.
Beijing marked the second Olympic appearance for Sakamoto, who finished sixth in singles and fifth in team in 2018. She wasn’t even in the conversation to win one of Japan’s two spots for PyeongChang at the start of the 2017-18 season, but steady improvement and challenging content earned her two runner-up results – at Skate America and the Japanese Nationals – propelled her onto the team.
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The youngest of three sisters, Sakamoto grew up in Kobe, Japan, where she started skating at the age of 4. She had seen figure skating in a popular Japanese TV series and told her mother, “That’s what I want to do.
Sakamoto began competing at the Junior Nationals in 2014 where she finished sixth. She won the junior national title in 2017, won her first senior national title in 2019, adding a second in 2022 with the Japanese Grand Prix title. In two world championships, she placed fifth in 2019 and sixth in 2021.
Sakamoto actually credits her improved performance to the pandemic lockdown, when she shifted her focus to fitness and endurance while spending six weeks away from the rink.
“I haven’t been able to skate for a month and a half so I’ve been able to work more on my strength training and maybe that hasn’t contributed to any major downfalls this season,” she said. through Golden Skate. “I have more power than last year, so the stamina helps me put more effort into expressing the music and other parts of the program.”
Off the ice, Sakamoto studies economics at a remote college and maintains his stamina by swimming and running long distances.
“It’s the culmination of four years in which I felt a lot of frustration,” Sakamoto said after winning bronze. “I am happy that my hard work has been rewarded. I didn’t expect to win a medal in the individual competition — the result certainly exceeded my [expectation].”
The NBC Olympics research team contributed to this report.
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Japan’s Kaori Sakamoto lands Olympic bronze with challenging free skate originally appeared on NBCSports.com