Japan’s Surprise Bronze in Figure Skating

With the Beijing 2022 Winter Olympics behind us, many national sports organizations are taking stock of their performances. In Japan, the nation is ecstatic for Kaori Sakamoto, one of the stars of the Winter Olympics representing the Japanese team in Beijing. The 21-year-old’s career has been on a meteoric rise over the past nine years, and she finally achieved her dream of winning a medal at the Olympics. She won bronze in both the team and women’s singles events. The Japanese star had been a favorite in the sports betting markets to win a medal, and she delivered.

Early CareerJapan's Surprise Bronze in Figure Skating

Despite being only 21-years-old, Sakamoto has been competing on the international circuit since 2012. She first learned how to skate in 2004. Then she made her debut, in competition, at the 2012-13 Japan Novice Championships where she won gold. Her career continued to build later in the same season, as she finished ninth in the Japan Junior Championships. That earned her an invitation to skate in the gala at the World Team Trophy.

Her debut in international competition came in the following season at the International Skating Union’s Junior Grand Prix. It was a respectable first season, she finished sixth overall. Her second attempt in the competition came the following season where she finished in seventh. Later in the season she won a silver medal at the Japanese junior level. Sakamoto’s performances in that season saw her invited to compete in the World Junior Championships. That gave the world a first glimpse at the ability of the teenager, as she finished fourth in the short program and sixth in the free skate, which saw her finish sixth overall.

Injury Problems

Like any elite athlete, injuries are something that potential superstars need to deal with. In the 2015-16 season, she needed to overcome this setback. She suffered a stress fracture in her right foot and missed the majority of the season.

However, she returned for the Japanese Championships and finished fifth in the junior event. She has a first taste of the Olympics at the conclusion of that season, as she finished sixth overall at the Winter Youth Olympics in 2016. 

First Full Senior Year

The next cycle towards the 2018 Winter Olympics for Sakamoto began in the 2017 season, which was her first at full senior level. She claimed a first gold medal when winning both segments at the Asian Figure Skating Trophy. Sakamoto made her Grand Prix debut later in that season, as she finished fifth overall in the Rostelecom Cup in 2017.

Her best performance of the season came at Skate America 2017. She recorded career best scores in both segments to win the silver medal behind countrywoman Satoko Miyahara. The Four Continents Championships were the last big events before the Winter Olympics in 2018, and Sakamoto excelled to win the gold medal and complete the Japanese clean sweep at the top of the podium.

2018 Winter Olympics And Post-Games

Sakamoto competed at the Winter Olympics for the first time in her career in 2018, as she represented Japan in the Team Event. She competed excellently to finish fifth both individually and in the team event. Sakamoto was in a strong position in the Ladies’ singles event, before minor mistakes cost her a place on the podium, as she eventually finished in sixth overall.

After the Winter Olympics, she competed in the Coupe du Printemps. After an excellent first skate, she led the field. However, a fall on her second jump in her second routine of the competition meant that she missed out on the top prize and instead finished second overall. The 2019-20 season was ultimately a disappointment for the star. She finished fourth in the Grand Prix at Skate America, and fell during her routine at the Japanese Championships, finishing sixth. That was followed by another costly fall in the Four Continents Championship in 2020, as she eventually finished fifth overall.

Road To Olympic SuccessRoad To Olympic Success

The path to the Olympic Games in Beijing started with wins in the Kinki Regional Championship and Western Sectionals. Sakamoto then won her first Grand Prix gold medal with more than 30 points separating her and her closest rival. She credited her success to strength training during the COVID-19 pandemic. That was followed by a second in the Japan Championships behind Rika Kihira, before finishing in a qualifying spot at the World Championships in Stockholm.

In the run-up to the Olympic Games, she claimed a second straight gold medal in the NHK Trophy, before her preparations were dealt a blow by the cancellation of the Grand Prix Final. A second gold medal in the Japan Championships soon followed as she produced an excellent display to top the leaderboard.

The one medal missing from her collection was an Olympic one. However, that finally came when she played an important role to help Japan win their first event. Sakamoto then finally won an individual medal at the Olympics, as she capitalized on a fall from Kamila Valieva to snatch bronze. History was made in the process, as she became the first women skater for 12 years to win an individual medal.

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