He might be the least known of the three “Japanese Musketeers” (which also includes Daisuke Takahashi and Nobunari Oda), but Takahiko Kozuka’s winning style this season has propelled him to a new level of popularity.
Kozuka has a lot in common with his two teammates. All are World Junior champions — Takahashi won the title in 2002, Oda in 2005, and Kozuka in 2006. All three qualified for the Grand Prix Final in Beijing in December.
Despite his shyness and warm smile, Kozuka is a competitor at heart. “I am friends with Daisuke and Nobunari. We eat together, joke together and enjoy karaoke together,” Kozuka said. “In Vancouver, we shared the same apartment ... but when the competition is on, we are rivals.
“The men’s category in Japan is very tough. It is hard to explain what the pressure is like at Japanese nationals,” he told IFS during the Paris Grand Prix event. “If our nation was awarded four or five entries for Worlds, my life would be much easier.”
In recent years, that privilege was only extended once to Germany at the 1991 European Championships, following the reunification of East and West Germany.
Kozuka said Takahashi winning the 2010 World title is a perfect example for him to follow. “I promised my rela- tives that I will try to improve my rankings and personal bests in every event I compete in,” said Kozuka, 21.
At his second assignment in Paris, he earned a season-best score for the free (170.43 points) and his overall total (248.07 points).
“I was first after the short program, so I knew I would have to skate last in the free, right after Florent Amodio,” he said. “Achieving a new personal best after Florent’s performance, in front of his home crowd, meant a lot to me. It will give me the confidence I need for future competitions.”
Kozuka, who took up the sport at age 5, hails from a skating background. “My dad, Tsuguhiko, competed at the 1968 Olympics in Grenoble, and my mom was an ice dancer,” he explained.
“My grandfather, Mitsuhiko Kozuka, was a skater too. He was the Manchurian champion [now part of Northeast China] and was the founder of the Aichi Skating Federation. There was a local competition named after my family, the Kozuka Trophy, which was renamed the Aichi Figure Skating Competition. But still, the best skater at the competition receives the Kozuka Trophy.”
This season, Roberto Campanella crafted Kozuka’s short pro- gram, “Soul Man,” and Marina Zoueva and son Fedor Andreev crafted the free program, “Piano Concerto No. 1” by Franz Liszt.
“Yuka Sato also helped me with the short,” Kozuka said with a smile. “But should we consider her Japanese or American, as she lives in the U.S.?”
He turned to Kurt Browning for one of his exhibition rout- ines, “Hello, Goodbye & Safety Dance” from “Glee. ”
Kozuka is very enthusiastic about his coach, Nobuo Sato, Yuka’s father, and his new training mate, Mao Asada. “I have never seen such a hard worker as Mao,” he admitted. “She is a role model for me, and she inspires everyone. She had very disappointing results at the Grand Prix events, but I am sure she will improve very soon.”
Though Kozuka lived in Canada for three years and understands English, he prefers to speak to foreign reporters through a translator. “I always want to pinpoint the precise words,” he said with a smile. “Next time I will try to conduct the interview in English and do my best.”
Originally published in February 2011