Thursday, April 1, 2010

The Full Metal Archivist on Daisuke Takahashi

cross-posted at Dai-chan's 2009-2010 Season

Luv Letter to Daisuke Takahashi
The Full Metal Archivist

My first experience of watching Dai-chan live at Skate Canada was something I will always remember, and I want to experience it again. I had heard of his high levels of artistry, energy, and skating skills on the ice from TV coverage and magazines. But I felt more than that at the event. Compared to the other skaters, Dai was outstanding. Obviously, he has charisma. It is not just a performance--when he skates, he changes the atmosphere of an audience. After I saw his La Strada, I felt refreshed, accepted, and encouraged by him--purified. His ability to reach the audience deeply is rare, as most figure skaters are concerned about their execution of technical elements such as jumps, spins, and step-sequences, focused on gaining points in a competition. Dai seems to be in a different dimension than this kind of skater.

I observed him a lot after his performances. He was fully aware of his environment and the people he engages. As he was leaving the ice after one performance at Skate Canada, he made sure to pick up pebbles that had fallen to the ice with a flower bouquet that his fan had tossed. That showed great consideration for the next skater and the flower-picking girls. Similarly, when I asked him for a photograph with onechan, I saw imoto was around the coffee shop with The Constructivist, unaware of what we were doing with Dai. After I took the first photo, imoto rushed into our sight. I hesitated to take another photo, because I was aware other fans were waiting for him. What Dai did was hold imoto’s shoulder and pose for another photo with both girls. How did he know that imoto was in our family? Then, I remembered our initial contact at a practice session two days before. Onechan and imoto had drawn something for him and were waiting patiently (by their standards) to give it to him. When he came back to his coach’s side, he noticed us trying to give him something, but not reaching his position. Then, imoto ran away from us. Onechan and The Constructivist chased after her. I was in a hurry, too. What he did was tap another person relatively close to me, point at me, and indicate that that person should pass the gift bag from me to him.

Apparently he’s always been like this. His parents were seriously concerned about his introverted and sensitive personality after seeing him crying a lot when he was 2nd grade. (He was often forced to carry several other kids’ backpacks for them --a typical form of school bullying in Japan.) To toughen him up, they tried to introduce him to various sports. They originally wanted him to play hockey. Dai freaked out when he saw the sticks, helmets, and pads. But when he saw kids skating at another corner of the rink, that was the beginning of his figure skating. While at Skate Canada I remembered reading and watching Dai’s comments about his childhood. He was quiet and shy, and didn’t have friends around, but he spent a lot of time in the rink. I guess the ice was the place that he felt comfortable to express himself, or he simply loved the sport. And figure skating provided a great niche to make use of his introverted and sensitive personality. He is able to become different characters on the ice, like boys who like to pretend to be super-heroes.

When he won his first international competition (even before winning the World Junior Championship), skating became more professional to him than fun. Compared to Kozuka Takahiko (from a famous figure skating family) and Oda Nobunari (offspring of a famous medieval lord), he wasn’t blessed financially. He needed all kinds of people’s support. The more people supported him, the more responsibility he must have felt. There was a time when he felt that skating was a job and a burden. Later, he admitted he wanted to quit. He couldn’t, though, after thinking of all the people who trusted and invested in him. I cannot imagine his struggles between the World Junior Championships and Torino Olympics, but he got a reputation among Japanese fans and media for being a “glass heart” skater. What they overlooked was how he always had to struggle to overcome the pressure of being known from an early age as a Japanese ace. It’s tough to be a front runner and pioneer. After Honda Takeshi’s career ended due to an injury, Dai became the hope for the Japanese Skating Federation. They wanted a return on their investment and Dai had to become a real fighter to live up to their expectations.

He was always aware of how lucky he was to have so many people supporting him, including his coach, Nagamitsu Utako. She understands Dai’s personality and how to motivate this guy. Her famous words-- “If you want to quit skating, you can. I will bow to everyone for apologies. That’s what I am for” (when he disappeared from his knee rehab in winter 2009), and “You can’t win the lottery without buying a ticket” (after the Vancouver Olympics and before the 2010 World Championships)--helped him through some of his lowest moments during his comeback from major knee surgery. He even said himself that he always meets the right person at the right time…. Well, you have to have a certain antenna to perceive that way. He is always aware of the details of his surroundings (both what he can see and cannot). That is his strength and fuels his skating. And it leads to giving to the audience.

He never forgets where he came from and is always thinking of ways to return what he got from skating. When many ice rinks in Japan started to close for financial reasons, Dai stepped up and wanted to do something for young skaters. He skated twice for his advocacy after he heard that rinks that he used to practice at were closing. His concern for coming young skaters shows his deep level of sportsmanship. At a press conference after his gold-medal performance at the 2010 World Championship, he commented, “I really hope that I can spur everybody so that the Japanese men also will do [as] well [as Japanese female skaters].” His pride as a Japanese ace pushes him to challenge quads, even though he doesn’t need them to win. He wants to pursue his idea of a perfect performance, and, in so doing, keep inspiring new figure skating generations.

I really congratulate him for his comeback season. After the ligament damage to his knee, he kept his faith in his skating, aimed at medals in both the Olympics and World Championships, and did it. He’s the most complete figure skater, with a great combination of artistry, athleticism, skills, sportsmanship, and pride with heart. Thank you, Dai-chan. It was great fun to chase you (mostly through streaming videos and news) this season.

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