Japan's ice dance duo Nishiyama Shingo and Yoshida Utana have been tipped to become figure skating's next big thing, and they are certainly in the right place to do so.
They train at the Toronto Cricket, Skating and Curling Club in Canada, which has produced Olympic champions Hanyu Yuzuru (JPN), Yuna Kim (KOR) and two-time world champion Javier Fernandez (ESP).
Under the guidance of legendary coach and two-time Olympic silver medallist Brian Orser – who led Hanyu, Kim and Fernandez to the top – Nishiyama, 17, and Yoshida, 16, have become hugely popular with figure skating fans.
“It’s special [to train at the same place as Hanyu and Co],” Nishiyama said at the Lausanne Skating Arena on Monday. “I can observe how they practise before competitions, and how they warm up before practice. I learn a lot. It’s good influence and a good environment.”
Nishiyama’s admiration for double Olympic champion Hanyu is telling – one of his earliest Instagram posts is a video of Hanyu’s performance to retain his title at the PyeongChang 2018 Olympic Winter Games. On it, Nishiyama vowed to work hard so he can become a great skater too.
Ice dancers Yoshida Utana and Nishiyama Shingo 🇯🇵 nailed the @Lausanne2020 dance. 💃🕺— Olympic Channel (@olympicchannel) 13 January 2020
Catch all the joy from the @YouthOlympics in our live blog: https://t.co/23C3oj2lBv#YouthOlympics #Lausanne2020 pic.twitter.com/TDRwSYimca
His most liked post so far is a photo with Hanyu at the NHK Trophy last November.
Hailing from the same club as storied champions might put pressure on some athletes, but Yoshida said she and Nishiyama take it in their stride. “We don’t feel pressure to measure up to them,” she said. “We do the ice dance, so it’s a different event altogether. “But it’s very inspiring to train with a coach like Brian and at the same club as people like Yuzuru and Javier. It makes you want to work harder.”
Nishiyama followed his figure skating dreams to Canada when he was 14, moving alone to a place where he knew neither the people nor the language.
“I wanted to practise in a good environment, with good skaters,” he said. “That’s why I decided to go to Toronto. “The hardest part was the language barrier. Now I can speak a little bit of English, but when I first went to Toronto I couldn’t speak any English and it was hard to communicate with my coach and my friends.”
Despite a somewhat disappointing result at Lausanne 2020 – Nishiyama and Yoshida came sixth out of 12 pairs in the ice dance – their popularity remains undimmed as they look towards the Beijing 2022 Olympic Winter Games.
“It’s a lot of fun, there is a lot of support and people cheering for us, and I get the energy from the fans,” Nishiyama said.