Born December 29, 1981, in Tokyo, Japan; daughter of Koichi and Sachi Arakawa. Education: Graduated from Waseda University, 2004.
Addresses: Contact—Champions on Ice, 3500 American Blvd. W, Minneapolis, MN 55431. Home— Sendai, Japan. Website—http://shizuka-arakawa.-com.
Began skating at the age of five and by age ten had been selected for a special summer camp sponsored by the Japan Skating Federation; at age 16 competed in her first Olympics, 1998; won Olympic figure-skating gold, 2006; retired from competition and turned pro, 2006; skated for the Champions on Ice series, 2006—.
Awards: Gold medal, Japanese National Championships, 1999; silver medal, Japanese National Championships, 2001; silver medal, Four Continents, Jeonju, South Korea, 2002, China, 2003; bronze medal, Japanese National Championships, 2003, 2004; gold medal, World Championships, Dortmund, Germany, 2004; first place, NHK Trophy, Nagoya, Japan, 2004; second place, Cup of Russia, Moscow, 2004; second place, Campbell's International Skating Challenge, New York City, 2004; ninth place, World Championships, 2005; second place, ISU Grand Prix Final, Beijing, 2005; bronze medal, Japanese National Championships, 2005; gold medal, Olympics, Turin, Italy, 2006.
As the 2006 Olympics began, the figure-skating world focused its attention on Russian world champion Irina Slutskaya and U.S. national champion Sasha Cohen, believing one of them would walk away with the gold. Japanese skater Shizuka Arakawa entered the final night of competition in third place behind the two but emerged in first place, becoming the first Asian to win a figure-skating gold and the first Japanese woman to win Olympic gold. Both Cohen and Slutskaya fell, but Arakawa skated with skill and poise, executing a flawless performance in the face of intense pressure, a feat that eluded her competitors. At 24, she was the oldest woman to win the event since 1920.
"Right now I'm just so surprised about all of this that I'm speechless, " she told Tokyo's Daily Yomiuri after winning her medal, the first of the Games for Japan. "I never expected that I would be the first one to win a medal for Japan, so I didn't feel that pressure. But I'm very happy that I'm the one who won it."
An only child, Arakawa was born on December 29, 1981, in Tokyo, Japan, to Koichi and Sachi Arakawa, and was raised in Sendai, in northeastern Japan. Arakawa began skating at the age of five, lured into the sport by the prospect of wearing fancy costumes. She started ballet lessons at the age of seven and at age eight landed her first triple jump, a Salchow. By age ten, Arakawa was known as the "girl wonder from Miyagi, " which was the prefecture where she lived, and she was selected for an elite summer camp hosted by the Japan Skating Federation. Growing up, she trained at the local rink until she graduated from Sendai's Tohoku High School.
Arakawa got her first major break in 1998 when she earned a chance to represent Japan at the Olympics, which it was hosting. Just 16, Arakawa placed 13th. When the 2002 Olympics rolled around, Arakawa did not even make the team. As the 2004 skating season progressed, Arakawa decided she would retire at the end of it. She took part-time jobs at a fast-food restaurant and a convenience store with plans of getting a full-time job after graduating with her social sciences degree from Waseda University in March of 2004. But Arakawa came alive at the 2004 World Championships in Dortmund, Germany, in a display of athleticism that saw her landing triple-triple combinations no woman had ever completed before, including one combination that required her to complete 14 revolutions in 30 seconds. She easily took first.
After winning the World Championship, Arakawa felt pressured to continue skating. She floundered through the 2004-05 season, though, plagued with skate trouble, homesickness, and injuries. Arakawa had lost her drive. "It was very difficult to motivate myself, " she recalled in an interview, according to USA Today's Kelly Whiteside. "It took a full year to regain my motivation." When the 2005 World Championships rolled around, Arakawa placed a disappointing ninth. The outcome, however, seemed to be a turning point for Arakawa, who decided she could not retire after a ninth-place finish. As Kyodo News Service reporter Shinsuke Kobayashi told Sports Illustrated's E.M. Swift, "Afterward I saw a glint in her eyes that had been missing. She told me, 'I can't finish like this.' Something ignited inside her."
Arakawa re-dedicated herself to the sport. Just two months before the 2006 Olympics—and after an intensive bout of soul-searching—Arakawa made a gutsy, dramatic move by switching coaches, music, costumes, and programs. Most skaters spend a year getting comfortable with their programs before an event like the Olympics, but Arakawa knew she needed a change. At the time, Arakawa was working with Russian coach Tatiana Tarasova, who had coached seven skaters to Olympic gold. Just before the Olympics, Arakawa began working with Nikolai Morozov, an Olympic ice dancer from Belarus and former choreographer for Tarasova. Morozov was surprised that Arakawa wanted to make changes that close to the Olympics but was delighted to work with her and impressed by her elegance. Many skaters "scratch" across the ice, but Arakawa seems to whisper. "When you watch her, it's like a feather. No noise, " Morozov told San Francisco Chronicle writer Gwen Knapp. "It's very rare that you have that."
Prior to the Olympics, at the Japanese nationals in December of 2005, Arakawa took third, placing behind 15-year-old Japanese phenom Mao Asada. Arakawa may not have even made the Olympic team if Asada had not missed the age cutoff. Going into the competition, all eyes were focused on Slutskaya and Cohen, with many analysts believing a gold dangled out of reach for Arakawa. Going into the final night of competition—the free skate—Cohen stood in first place, just .03 of a point in front of Slutskaya. Arakawa trailed the leader by just .71 of a point. But Cohen and Slutskaya both fell during their final programs.
Arakawa skated her free skate to Puccini's "Violin Fantasy of Turandot." "I like to skate to music with a story, " Arakawa once remarked, according to Goldenskate.com's Barry Mittan. "Something big that I can skate to. If you compare skating to ballet, there's a story you have to follow in ballet. But in skating, I can tell my own story by performing whatever feels best with the music."
Arakawa pulled off spectacular spirals and skated a cautious program that did not showcase her athleticism. She held back on two planned triple-triple jump combinations, downgrading them to triple-doubles, but also chose to double a solo triple. In sum, she landed five triple jumps, some in combination. The 5-foot-6-inch Arakawa, who is tall for a female skater, wowed the crowd with a stunning move called the Ina Bauer. It is a spread eagle variation where the performer skates on two parallel blades, with the heels pointing toward each other, while bending over backward. Arakawa's head nearly grazed the floor as she held the position, coasting across the ice.
While many critics said Arakawa's performance failed to dazzle the crowd—and suggested she only won because the others fell—1984 Olympic gold medalist and American Scott Hamilton suggested otherwise. As Jack Gallagher reported in the Japan Times, after Arakawa's performance, Hamilton remarked, "Shizuka Arakawa skated a wonderful program tonight. I am convinced it will stand the test of time."
After the Olympics, coaches around the world were left to wonder if Arakawa's gold marked a new era of dominance in the sport by the Japanese. It was the first time since 1994 that the United States did not win the gold. Arakawa, however, had no intention of staging a repeat. Following the Olympics, Arakawa retired from competition and turned professional, signing a deal to perform at certain venues of the Champions on Ice series.
Daily Yomiuri (Tokyo, Japan), February 25, 2006, p. 1.
Japan Times (Tokyo, Japan), March 16, 2006.
New York Times, February 24, 2006, p. S1.
San Diego Union-Tribune, February 26, 2006, Special Section, p. 2.
San Francisco Chronicle, February 25, 2006, p. D1.
Sports Illustrated, March 6, 2006, pp. 42-44.
USA Today, February 24, 2006, p. F6.
"Shizuka Arakawa, " Golden Skate, http://www.goldenskate.com/articles/2003/083003.shtml (April 17, 2006).
"Shizuka Arakawa, " NBCOlympics.com, http:// www.nbcolympics.com/athletes/5072356/detail. html (April 17, 2006).
"Slip Sliding Away, " SI.com, http://sportsil lustrated.cnn.com/2006/olympics/2006/02/23/ figure.skating.gold.ap/index.html (February 24, 2006).