For the past two years, singles skaters from all corners of the globe have been gravitating to the Detroit club to work with Yuka Sato and Jason Dungjen.
Sato, 38, and Dungjen, 44, began their coaching careers teaching basic skating skills to young stars on the rise.
All that changed when Jeremy Abbott, a two-time U.S. champion, left his Colorado Springs training base in 2009 and relocated to Detroit to work with Sato and Dungjen.
Sato claimed the World junior title in 1990 at age 18. Four years later she claimed the World crown at the senior level in her Japanese homeland.
Following her retirement from the amateur stage, she enjoyed a successful professional career touring with Stars on Ice for a number of years and won four World Professional titles (1995, 2000-02).
The Tokyo native also works as a commentator for the NHK television network in Japan. “The highlight of my on-air career was commentating at the 2006 Olympic Games when Shizuka Arakawa won the gold medal in the ladies competition for Japan,” she said with a smile.
Sato is the daughter of renowned coaches Nobuo Sato and Kumiko Okawa, both of whom competed at Olympic Winter Games in the 1960s.
Dungjen, a former pairs skater with Kyoko Ina, competed at four World Championships. The pair finished fourth at the global event in 1997 and repeated the result at the 1998 Olympic Winter Games.
Following his retirement, Dungjen performed in shows for nine years, first with Ina and then with Sato, whom he married in 1999.
The first year Sato and Dungjen worked with Abbott proved to be a successful one, but the following year Abbott was plagued by equipment problems. “Jeremy changed his boots four times and his balance went off,” Sato recalled. “This was very frustrating for him and he was very discouraged by the end of the season. His confidence was gone.
“Once we fixed that problem, we made adjustments to his training routine and his jumps started coming back.”
In the early days of their working relationship Abbott had his coaches pretty much to himself, but he now has to share them with a number of other elite skaters, which, according to Sato, was not an easy adjustment for him initially. “He had 100 percent of our attention in the beginning,” she explained with a smile.
When asked how many athletes they work with, Dungjen took a moment to do a mental head count. “We coach nine high-level skaters here, each of which has different habits and a different approach. We work with each one individually to ensure that they are happy and comfortable. This is important for every individual skater.”
Dungjen said he applies his expertise as a technical specialist for the International Skating Union (ISU) in all training sessions. “Technical preparation is important for mental strength,” he said. “I always ask my students,‘Are you doing everything possible to prepare for your elements?’”
Alissa Czisny has always trained at the Detroit club but decided to make a coaching change in the summer of 2010. “I had worked with Yuka before, and I did not want to move away from my home base. I knew this was the right place for me.”
Sato said that having so many elite skaters under one roof is positive for everyone. “Alissa did not make the World team in 2010, when Jeremy did, and Jeremy did not make it in 2011 when Alissa qualified, so both know how it feels to lose and to win,” Sato explained.
Alexe Gilles made the move to Detroit last spring. “She is a wonderful, tall skater but needs more consistency with her jumps,” Sato said.
Italy’s Valentina Marchei also relocated to Detroit during the off-season. “Valentina contacted me at Worlds and said she was looking for a coach who stays in one place all year,” Dungjen recalled. “She had a bad injury and needed to get her confidence back. She is an energetic person, and we have to hold her back sometimes, but it is good to have someone like her in the mix.”
Marchei said she made a smart decision. “I like my new coaches. I had no tryout with them, but I knew from the first practice that they were the right ones for me. Yuka and Jason are quiet and not nervous at all. They look on from a distance. I will stay with them until the 2014 Games in Sochi.”
Dungjen also works with Becky Bereswill, who skated pairs last season but has returned to the singles ranks. Rising French star Chafik Besseghier spent almost three months working with Sato and Dungjen over the summer, mainly on jumps and spins.
Dungjen taught him the quad Salchow. “He was fun to work with. Yuka put the polishing touches on both of his programs,” Dungjen said.
Takahiko Kozuka, who is coached by Sato’s father in Japan, also spent time in Detroit over the summer, as did his teammate Haruka Imai.
In mid-July following the annual ISU seminar for technical specialists and controllers in Frankfurt, Germany, Dungjen flew to Japan to join Czisny and Adam Rippon, who were both performing on a tour in the Asian nation.
“I wanted to continue getting them ready for the new season,” Dungjen said. “We got extra ice every morning for training, and we watched the other skaters who were on the tour train as well. It was fun.”
Rippon originally went to Detroit to have a new long program choreographed. The atmosphere and the training facilities appealed to him. “Adam liked it here in Detroit and he wanted to stay. His mother and Alissa’s mother had a long talk, and in the end the Rippon family decided that Adam would stay,” Dungjen explained.
Sato said that having two top American male singles skaters training on the same ice has not been an issue. “Adam and Jeremy respect each other as competi- tors, and they will certainly be rivals at nationals!”
Over the summer Dungjen worked with Rippon on his triple Axel and is now focused on getting the quad Lutz consistent.
This positive training environment has given Rippon an inspired focus. “Jason is an excellent technician. He has a sharp eye and sees immediately why a jump does not work and corrects my mistakes right away,” Rippon said. “He helped me with the triple
Axel, which is now consistent. During the tour in Japan Jason asked me to do the jump in every show, and I landed every one of them.”
Dungjen said he is too busy to focus on developing any pairs teams at this time. His coaching duties have also restricted his work as a technical specialist. “I was originally assigned to Skate Canada, but that was not possible because Adam skated there,” he explained. “I had no skaters at the Junior Grand Prix in Poland, so I was assigned to that event instead.”
Originally published in December 2011