Japan’s Aki Sawada, who won the Japanese novice title in 2001, was virtually unknown until last season, when she finished fifth at her first major international competition, the 2004 World Junior Figure Skating Championships in the Netherlands. “I wanted to be at the World Juniors very much,” she said. “That was my goal for the season. It was my first big competition and I had a very good time. It was a lot of fun. Next year, I want to come again.” She started well this year, finishing second at the Junior Grand Prix in Budapest and third in Ukraine. With 24 points accumulated from these events, Sawada has secured herself a spot for the Junior Grand Prix Final which will be held in Helsinki, Finland, December 2-5, 2004.
“Last year I really wanted to find my own self as a skater,” Sawada continued. “My favorite moment is when I’m competing and I’m by myself on the ice. That’s when I’m the most comfortable. I don’t feel any pressure. I like to skate by myself.”
She has been skating since she was six. “There are no other sportsmen in my family, but my mother recommended that I go to figure skating class,” she said. “I like jumping.” Four years later, she landed her first triple jumps, the triple toe loop and the salchow. Within another four years, she had learned all the other triple jumps and landed a clean triple Axel in Japanese national competition. Last summer, she began working on a quadtoe loop.
“She has landed the quad toe, but cheated,” said her coach, Mie Hamada, who has worked with Sawada since the beginning. “Aki is a very strong skater, but we don’t want to have the quad in her program yet. We want to have a big clean, triple Axel first. She is also working on a triple loop-triple loop combination.” This season, Sawada is using a triple flip-triple toe combination in the short, adding a triple lutz-double Axel in the long. “We will probably not have the triple Axel in Helsinki,” said Hamada, “unless it is more consistent in training.”
Hamada chooses all of Sawada’s music, but Tom Dickson works with her on the choreography. She usually changes both programs each year. “I like to skate to athletic, but rhythmical music,” Sawada said. “Off ice I just listen to pop.” Last season, Hamada selected the anthem from the 2002 FIFA World Cup Soccer Tournament, which was held in Japan and Korea, for the short program. She used music from the soundtrack of Spirit Away, a famous Japanese movie that won the country’s equivalent of an Oscar, for the long.
For the 2004-2005 season, Sawada is using Caravan for the short and Yellow River: Piano Concerto for the long. “I chose the music because I wanted to make her skate bigger,” Hamada said. “She needs to show a more mature look.” “I want to use my edges more and skate with more speed,” Sawada added. Her exhibition music is Believe in Yourself, which fits Sawada well.
Sawada trains for three to four hours a day, six days a week and does another hour of off ice training daily, including ballet and gymnastics both once a week. Other than skating, ballet was the only other athletic activity in which she participates. “I started ballet when I was seven or eight, just for fun,” she said. She also takes gymnastics in school.
She is in the fourth year at a public junior high school, where her favorite subject is mathematics. She is also trying to learn Korean, so she can communicate better with a friend she met at a Junior Grand Prix competition. Sawada plans to go to university, but doesn’t know what she wants to study. “I plan to skate until at least two or three years after I graduate from the university,” Sawada stated.
Off ice, she enjoys reading novels and chatting with friends by email. She collects “Winnie the Pooh things” and keeps the stuffed toys she receives in her house. Sawada likes to travel. “I liked everywhere I went,” she said, “every foreign country. I’d like to go to Korea so I can see my friend.” In the summer, she also likes to go to the ocean beach for holiday.