At the beginning of the 2022-23 season, Sota Yamamoto made the highly-competitive Japanese men’s team for the World Championships, which takes place next week in his home country. Not many would have guessed that the 23-year-old, himself included, would have expected this quick turn around ahead of the season.
Yamamoto had been a very promising and successful skater during his Junior years. At the age of 14, he won the silver medal at the ISU Junior Grand Prix Final in Barcelona, right behind his teammate and friend Shoma Uno. He continued upward, taking the bronze at the 2015 Junior World Championships and climbed the podium again at the 2015-16 Junior Grand Prix Final, capturing the bronze. After turning 16, his promising path into a successful career in figure skating was highlighted with the win of the 2016 Youth Olympic Games in Lillehammer. Then, bad luck reared it’s ugly head.
The skater from Nagoya fractured his right ankle during practice, just days ahead of the 2016 Junior World Championships. He missed the entire following 2016-17 season altogether in what would have been his senior debut. It would prove to be a difficult road back as he couldn’t tie up with his successes in Juniors.
Despite showing excellent jumping technique and, when successfully landed, beautiful quadruple toeloops and Sachlows, he lacked consistency. In the tough field of Japanese men, he was unable to establish himself at the top. However, over the course of the next five years, giving up was never an option.
“Figure skating is life for me,” he said, smiling. “If it wasn’t a good season and I made a lot of mistakes, I could still see where my challenges were and that helped me!”
This season, however, everything started to take a change for the better. Back in July 2022, Yamamoto won an internal Japanese competition, and as a result, was awarded the host spot for NHK Trophy 2022. He was also earned a spot at the Grand Prix de France.
Yamamoto seized the opportunities, delivering near-clean performances at both Grand Prix de France and NHK Trophy for two silver-medal wins. As a result, he qualified for the 2022-23 Grand Prix Final in Torino, where he edged out four of his competitors, including USA’s quad-Axel-prodigy Ilia Malinin, winning another silver medal. History from eight years prior repeating itself, he shared the podium again with with none other than Shoma Uno, who took the gold.
“At the beginning, starting with the Grand Prix season, my goal had been to finally get on the podium,” the skater said, reflecting on his own expectations for the season. “Since I had advanced to the senior class, I had a dark period where I didn’t make it to the podium. Now, becoming second in the Grand Prix Final was more than I had originally expected. The fact that I was chosen for the World Championships makes me more than happy, so I want to show a performance that shows my personality.”
Despite finishing off the podium in fifth place at the Japanese nationals, his amazing success earlier in the season had guarantied Yamamoto his spot at his very first senior World Championships. A fairly tale come true for the skater after his last World Championships appearance in Juniors.
“I’m really looking forward to Worlds,” Yamamoto shared. “I am not nervous, rather excited. Just being able to be at Worlds in my home country makes me very happy. The arena in Saitama is very big and holds a lot of spectators, so I’m really looking forward to it. It has always been my dream and I will finally participate for the first time, so I want to enjoy it as much as I can.”
“Of course, I want to make it to the podium,” he added, “but there will be very good athletes from all over the world and they will all want to do their best, too. So I don’t want to think only about the score, but to implement what I have acquired in training. Above all, I want to have fun and show the fruits of my training.”
What made the difference this season?
“It didn’t go as I expected for a long time, but this season, I’ve been able to develop,” Yamamoto explained. “I made some mistakes, but I was able to brush up on my strengths and I have a good training routine. I have been able to learn a lot from all the failures of the past, and even now, I am still on the staircase to improvement. So from now on, I want to keep striving to aim for much higher goals.”
The success this season is only the beginning for Yamamoto, who is already confidently looking ahead to next season.
“I aim for the top!” he said. “But in order to reach higher goals and improve my strengths, it’s necessary for me to try other quadruple jumps as well. As soon as the World Championships are over, I want to work on quad flip and loop in view of the new season. Of course, these new jumps will be very hard for me, but by implementing them, I can improve my strengths.”
The skater is still undecided on his program choices for the upcoming season, but he would like to try new challenges in regards to music.
“I want to show a different side of myself,” said Yamamoto. “Definitely for my exhibition program, but also for my competitive ones. After the World Championships, I would like to work on new programs and present myself from a different angle!”
So his fans can look forward to seeing Yamamoto’s performances in 2023-24 where he can hopefully continue with his new-found strength.
“It means a lot to me that many fans, many people supported me and came to see me,” he said. “I try to return a little bit of gratitude through my performance. I am very thankful to everyone who has supported me throughout the years and continue to do so!”
Defining his strengths
“Overall, I think, if I land the jumps, the quality is quite good,” said Yamamoto. “I don’t realize it myself, but many people praise my skating skills, so I want to build on that strength. I also think my spins have improved a lot in the meantime.”
In addition to skating, Yamamoto is a s student at the Faculty of Sports Science at Chukyo University.
“I had a short break for a while, but I am in my fourth year now,” he revealed. “I think if I do my best, I can graduate next year, so I want to study a lot.”
But he can never imagine his life without the sport that is so dear to him.
“Regarding long-time goals to the future, I can only say that I love skating and I think that’s who I am,” Yamamoto summed up. “I don’t know in what way it will be, but I am sure I will always be in touch with skating!”