Japanese ice hockey’s mood-making, hard-working, commuting Olympian
Ami Nakamura is as dedicated a commuter as they come. For the last four years, the 30-year-old Japan forward has been juggling her international ice hockey career with her job as a shop assistant at the Yokohama Anpanman Children’s Museum Store, making a four-hour round trip every day from Tokyo to Yokohama.
And when she is not serving the public or sitting on a train, Ami is training six nights a week with her club, leading J-League outfit Seibu Princess Rabbits.
Exhausting as that schedule might sound, you will not hear her complaining, as her store manager, Yuka Tanaka, confirms: “Of all my staff, Ami lives furthest from Yokohama. I imagine there are hardships that we never see in the workplace, but she has never been late for work and she never shows her fatigue. She takes her work as seriously as ice hockey.”
“I do often feel exhausted,” says Ami, who has just one day a week to herself. That tireless dedication to her sport and her work can be traced back to her childhood and her memories of watching Japan’s ice hockey team at the Olympic Winter Games Nagano 1998.
“I saw the national team playing against foreign sides for the first time,” recalls Ami. “It didn’t matter to me who won or lost. I thought the players wearing the national team uniform displaying the Japanese flag looked very cool and it made me want to play on the same stage one day.”
Determined to fulfil her dream, she moved to Tokyo at the age of 14 to find a club that could help her make it to the national team and from there on to the Olympic stage. It was a dream she has made come true, representing Japan at Sochi 2014, where they placed seventh, and again at PyeongChang 2018, where the Japanese finished one place higher.
One of around 10 Seibu players on the national side, Ami keeps smiling despite her busy schedule, a quality that her club coach Takayuki Hattanda admires in her: “Ami is a mood maker and she gives momentum to the team. She changes their mood. I expect that from her.”
Her team-mates also love having the indefatigable Ami around, and feed on the energy she brings to training. “Ami is someone who always shows her desire to win and she always gives everything she has to offer,” says Ayaka Toko. “I think she has a kind of energy that propels the whole team.”
Ami had planned to hang up her stick after Sochi 2014, but such was the buzz that she got from the Olympic experience that she decided to repeat it in PyeongChang: “Sochi 2014 made me want to continue playing for the next four years.”
Though her hopes of winning an Olympic medal have yet to be fulfilled, the driven Ami is determined to keep her eyes on the puck, literally so: “When I am playing ice hockey I focus on the puck and nothing else; to retrieve it, recover it and to shoot at the goal. There are no moments at all when I feel scared.”