Does anybody else find Shizuka's path to the Olympic Gold fascinating?

1998-As a 16 year shocks most of Japan by beating the more highly fellow junior skater Fumie Suguri for the lone spot to the Olympics in home country of Japan and the Worlds in Minneapolis. Places outside the top 10 at the Olympics but shows promise with strong jumping potential, places outside top 20 at Worlds though.

1999-Has dissapointing GP season while arch rival Fumie soars and makes GP final. Shizuka beats Fumie to win Nationals, and Fumie has dissapointing showing at GP final. It seems like the Japanese has a dilemna on its hands, as it said before the GP final it was not sure who it would send to Worlds after Shizuka's Nationals win after Fumies GP season, and Fumie does not perform well at the GP final. Despite this it goes with Fumie for the lone spot to Worlds over Shizuka.

2000-Is eclipsed in Japan by not only contempary rival Fumie but young star Yoshie Onda. Both Fumie and Shizuka have dissapointing years and Yoshie wins Nationals and gets the ticket to Worlds.

2001-Another dissapointing season for the now faded former up and coming star of Japanese skating as Fumie garners the lone spot to Worlds. Fails to show much on GP circuit or any international event.

2002-Has some slight improvement as far as her international showings with a 4th at Skate America, and a 2nd at the Four Continents. Still is shut out of the World and Olympic team as both Fumie and Yoshie get the spots over him. This making it 4 straight years she has failed to make it to Worlds since her debut at the Olympics and Worlds as a 16 year old, and 4 years after that as a 20 year old has not been to another Worlds and misses out on the Olympics to boot. Clearly her star has dimmed greatly and retirement seems the most likely option.

2003-Has best season on international scene yet, he 5th at Cup of Russia, and bronze at the NHK trophy(first GP event medal)qualify her as a depth alternate for the GP finals but with multiple withdrawals she sneaks in there and comes a strong 4th. Wins silver behind Fumie at Four Continents, and has impressive string prior to the Four Continents, winning the University Games, National Sports Festival, and Asian Games golds. Comes a respectable 8th at Worlds, her first Worlds in 5 years.

2004-This season turns out even better then 2003 to start as she medals at all her GP events, winning silver or bronze behind Sasha Cohen at each. Comes a strong 3rd at the GP final, her first medal at this event. Then the shocker of all is yet to come, enters Worlds as a dark horse challenger for a medal, yet after a coaching change to Tarasova rides her triple-triples and improved on ice presence to a World title eclipsing American stars Cohen and Kwan.

2005-The season starts out on a good foot as she wins the NHK trophy easily-her first GP event win. Then she starts to show some jump consistency problems, loses by a whopping 20 points to Slutskaya at Cup of China. Loses badly again to Slutskaya at the GP final, finishing a distant 2nd after sloppy error-prone free skate. Misses Japanese Nationals. Then a disaesterous defence of her World title as she ends up 9th. Reportedly retires but then returns.

2006-Shows improved form and motivation over previous year but gets unlucky with GP assignments, and by far gets the toughest draws with Slutskaya and Asada in one event, and Cohen and Asada in the other. Hits most of her jumps, but tries no triple-triples, misses 1 jump in each free skate, and also loses crucial points in the short program where her cheated triple flip is ruled a double-costing her 2nd place in both events likely, as she ends up 3rd in each despite 2nd place in free skate(was behind after points lost with cheated 3 flip in short both times). Misses GP final. Comes only 3rd at Japanese Nationals behind Suguri and Asada. In Turin skates beautifuly to revamped short program, and actually fully rotates her previously cheated 3 flip, landing her in a virtual 3-way tie for 1st with favorites Cohen and Slutskaya going into free skate. Wins the Olympic gold with a beautiful if unspectacular performance where despite a doubled 3 loop and no attemp at the 3/3s she was displaying in practice, is a clear uncontested winner after both Irina and Sasha plant their rear ends on the ice at some point in their programs.

What an unusual career path. You have to feel so happy for her in a way to end her career as an Olympic Champion, and having won that World title 2 years before that. The perserverance of this women is hard to imagine, getting dropped from the Japanese World team and going through middling international results for 4 years, after bursting on the scene as an Olympian and World competitor as a 16 year before that. I honestly did not think she would even continue after 2002 and was surprised to see her at all in the 02-03. What an amazing career journey and amazing it did not get more storyline then it did after her Olympic Gold, or even her World title.