Japan’s Midori Ito made history many times during her illustrious 11-year career on the global stage.
While still in the junior ranks, Ito had an impressive triple Axel in her repertoire and was landing triple-triple combinations as far back as the 1980s.
She made the world sit up and take notice at the 1988 Olympic Winter Games when the then-18-year-old landed seven triple jumps in her free program.
The following season Ito executed a triple Axel on home turf at NHK Trophy, the first female skater ever to do so in international competition. A few months later she added a global crown to her expanding résumé following a decisive victory at the 1989 World Championships. Ito was the first skater from an Asian nation to claim a World figure skating title.
After capturing the silver medal at the 1992 Olympic Winter Games in Albertville, France Ito left the amateur circuit and performed in shows across Japan for a number of years.
In 1995, she returned to the competitive stage but officially retired at the end of that season.
Ito’s return to the competitive circuit at the International Adult Figure Skating Competition 2011 in Oberstdorf, Germany last June was a pleasant surprise.
Skating to music by blind Japanese pianist Nobuyuki Tsujii, her performance in the Masters Elite category was one of the highlights of the competition. As she skated onto the ice, the audience acknowledged her with loud applause and she received a standing ovation at the end of her program.
However, Ito did not appear to have studied the rules. She only executed six elements, (including a double Axel), instead of the required 11 and ended up in second behind America’s Jan Calnan.
The result, however, did not seem to bother the Japanese star. “That was my first competition in 15 years. The sport has changed a lot,” said Ito, who turned 42 on August 13. “I didn’t want to show many jumps in the competition, but more my joy of skating. Obviously I’m not as good technically as I was before. I know that.”
However, there was little doubt that Ito enjoyed the experience. She was in the stands for most of the other skaters’ performances, cheering them on. She hugged Calnan before and after their respective performances and was the first to congratulate her friendly rival.
“Watching the other skaters I realized that this event is more about fun, and this was my attitude as well,” the Nagoya native said with a wide smile. “I did this program myself, and I still have to get used to the new judging system. I don’t have a choice; I just have to adapt. I was judged under it for the first time in Germany. Before, speed was important in footwork and spins, but now you have to show so many different positions.
“At the victory ceremony everyone was telling me that I needed to do more elements (to win). I saw the difficult elements the other skaters did, but for me, having fun was the most important part and the result doesn’t matter. I saw a lot of people who were just enjoying skating and that gave me a lot of energy.”
The Japanese star said she trained two hours a day twice a week to get ready for the competition. “I did not overdo it, in order to avoid injuries. I don’t have a coach but sometimes I get help from friends who have more experience with the new judging system,” Ito explained.
“Everybody gave their best, and that was motivating for me.”
Originally published in October 2011