Over many year’s, Japan’s Mai Mihara has enchanted figure skating fans around the year with her delightful and musical skating. She is also known for her consistency and reliability under pressure. Nevertheless, until this season, the skater from Kobe was also known as the “eternal fourth.”
The 24-year-old placed fourth at no less than seven ISU Grand Prix Events from 2016 and 2021. Additionally, she twice missed out on Japan’s Olympic teams, placing fifth and fourth at the deciding National Championships. In absence of her Olympic team members, the skater proved her reliability by winning the Four Continents Championships in 2018 and 2022. However, despite one appearance at the World Championships back in 2017, Mihara missed out competing on the World stage ever so closely year by year. In 2019 she additionally suffered from serious health problems that forced her to sit out the season.
“What became my motivation was the support and letters from so many people,” the skater reflects on these years. “These words of cheering me on had supported my heart and motivated me to do a good performance for those people.”
Fast-forward to this season. Mihara first competed at the ISU Grand Prix in Sheffield. Her two programs seemed to suit her perfectly: the short program to “Merry Christmas, Mr. Lawrence” by Ryuichi Sakamoto and the free skate to “El amor brujo” by Manuel De Falla. She delivered two clean performances in Great Britain, earning a personal best in the free skate and overall, and edging out USA’s Isabeau Levito to claim her very first Grand Prix gold.
“I didn’t believe I could win a gold medal,” the touched and happy skater shared with the press then. “After becoming forth every single time, I didn’t believe in myself anymore. My coaches told me that I could possibly win a medal if I work hard. Apparently they were right!”
It was the start into an “absolutely amazing” season, as Mihara summed up the year in her own words in February.
The skater went on to win her second Grand Prix gold in Espoo, Finland, and then captured the gold at the ISU Grand Prix Final in Torino. A convincing second-place finish after World Champion and training mate Kaori Sakamoto at nationals sealed the deal: Mihara was nominated for the 2023 Japanese World team.
“My experience up until now was that I couldn’t go on the podium because I was always in fourth place, and I experienced a lot of frustration because of it,” the skater reflected. “So now that I can go on the podium, I have 100% happiness, and more than that, a lot of surprise. It gave me a lot of confidence.”
The skater shared that she is very excited about the upcoming event in her home country and “with the power of support from everyone, I will give my very best.”
Regarding goals for the competition she said: “I think I’ll get good results if I can do what I can do perfectly. So, without thinking about the result, I will do the best I can one by one in my performance.”
One of her main competitors at the World Championships will be Mihara’s long-time training mate Kaori Sakamoto. Thus far, they have competed four times against one another this season, both coming ahead of the other one twice: Mihara at the Grand Prix Final and the World University Games, Sakamoto at Japanese Nationals and the Challenge Cup. Asked about their rivalry, the skater only had friendly feelings towards her colleague.
“This season I could compete with Kaorichan more often than usual,” said Mihara. “I was really happy that we could compete like this together. I hope we can train well together until the World Championship and both show our best performance there.”
With the improving results this season, Mihara has gained more attention in Japan where the sport is extremely popular.
“Now that I’m getting results, I’m appearing more in news, internet articles or newspapers,” she noted, adding that she enjoys the new popularity. “So more people come up and talk to me when I walk in the streets, or they ask to take pictures with me.”
“I’m really happy that people talk to me,” she continued. “I used to watch the other skaters close to me, so now I’m really happy that many people know about me and talk to me. Things like that make me feel happy that I’m doing figure skating.”
Asked what she loves most about figure skating, Mihara replied: “Figure skating has more room for performance than other sports, and each song has their own story. The performances each have a lot of feelings attached to them by many people, so I think that’s incredible.”
Currently Mihara plans to continue competing for a while and cannot yet imagine a life without it.
“I haven’t decided on the future at all,” she said. “I want to do my best while valuing these times and give my all into competitions and only think of what’s ahead after that.”
“After the results of this season, I want to improve my performance even more,” Mihara added. “I want to level up my skating and show a performance where people can feel moved from their heart.”
The skater has not yet decided on music for season, but has a lot of playlists of songs she’s like to skate to. She’s currently in the “thinking and selection” process.
Mihara also greatly appreciates the traveling opportunities that the sport brings her. She also defines herself as the “outdoors type.”
“I want to go anywhere as long as it’s outdoors. If I have even just a little bit of free time, I want to go to see things that sparkle. I also like flower-watching,” she added with a smile. “I also really like go to shopping!”
Asked on her favorite travel memory, she thinks for a while before she shares: “Every time I go overseas, I think it’s beautiful so I can’t just pick one! But during Junior Grand Prix Final back in 2015, Barcelona’s scenery really stood out for me. But I have to say, the beautiful streets of Europe, or America’s brightness, they’re all amazing, I love them all!”
To communicate more easily all over the world, Mihara has significantly improved her English skills over the last years.
“I quite like English and I watch a lot of movies in English,” she revealed. “Or I listen in on the English interviews of other athletes on the sport. I also have friends who speak English, so I talk to them often in order to improve. I hope to be fluent enough soon to give you a full interview in English.”