February 23rd, 2006
Shizuka Arakawa seriously thought about giving up figure skating after she finished ninth at the 2005 World Championships. Just a year later, she had entered Japanese sporting legend with her performance at the Torino 2006 Olympic Winter Games.
Prior to the Games in Italy, the Japanese skater was regarded a title outsider, with American Sasha Cohen and Russian Irina Slutskaya the hot favourites for gold.
And after the short programme, everything seemed to be going according to plan, with Cohen first, Slutskaya second and Arakawa, the 2004 world champion, back in third.
“I thought about quitting after 2004. I am very glad now that I chose to continue. I want to give hope to everyone who watches me skate.”
The following day’s free programme at the Palavela ice rink showed that nothing can be taken for granted in professional sport though.
While Cohen fell twice and Slutskaya tumbled over once, Arakawa skated impeccably.
Dancing to Puccini’s Tarandot, she landed five triples – three of them in combination – and her gliding lean-back was particularly memorable.
At the end of the routine, Arakawa was awarded a personal best score of 125.32 points and flashed a v for victory sign. Her total of 191.34 was a huge 7.98 clear of Cohen in silver, with Slutskaya taking bronze.
The native of Sendai had recorded a number of landmarks; she was Japan’s first Olympic gold medallist in figure skating, their only medallist of the 2006 Games, and just the second Japanese athlete to have won gold at a Winter Games (the first being freestyle skier Tae Satoya in 1998).
“I thought about quitting after 2004,” Arakawa admitted. “I am very glad now that I chose to continue. I want to give hope to everyone who watches me skate.”