Ice Network

Higuchi makes big impact in first year as senior

Japanese teenager looking to win second medal in Grand Prix Series
  • Ice Network on Facebook
  • Ice Network on Twitter
Fifteen-year-old Wakaba Higuchi has shown a great command of the ice in her short time as a senior skater. -Getty Images

In a figure skating powerhouse like Japan, the fight for a podium finish at the national championships may be more difficult than at a Grand Prix event -- which is why what Wakaba Higuchi has accomplished is all the more remarkable.

While still just a junior high student, Higuchi won the bronze at the Japanese Figure Skating Championships two seasons ago and last year she moved up one step on the podium, earning the silver. The skater from Tokyo has also won bronze medals at each of the last two world junior championships.

This season, the 15-year-old officially moved up to the senior circuit. She quickly proved she belonged by winning her first international title at the Lombardia Trophy in September. Two weeks ago, she made her Grand Prix debut at Trophée de France, bringing home a bronze medal from Paris.

The results are all well and good, but what the skater really wants is to gain the necessary experience so that she can be prepared for when the lights shine their brightest.

"I want to cherish it," Higuchi said in an interview before the Grand Prix Series started. "If I had the chance to go to the Olympics, I don't want to get nervous. Of course, I will get nervous, but through competing at the senior level this season, I hope I can get used to it and get some sense of the big events."

After the competition in France, Higuchi was happy about how she handled her nerves.

"I was not intimidated and did not feel much pressure; I think that was good," she said. "What I've gained the most through this experience is that I've learned to skate with calm."

The skater who is being called the "next Midori Ito" thanks to her powerful jumps (she practices the triple axel every day, and she is also working on a quad salchow) sees her biggest challenge as her program components, something a newcomer to the senior level always needs to fight for.

"If you look at the top senior skaters, all of them are doing difficult jumps -- some are trying two triple-triples -- but they don't get high scores because of the jumps only," Higuchi acknowledged. "Although I want to be consistent on my jumps and try more difficult jumps, there are so many things to be done -- I don't want to just focus on jumps but want to work hard on my basics, on my components, and improve the second mark."

To that end, the skater looked outside Japan for her competition programs for the first time in her career. After the world junior championships last season, she went to Toronto and Detroit to get her choreography done.

Her short program is choreographed by Shae-Lynn Bourne. 

"She did my exhibition number last season, and I really enjoyed it, so I asked her to do my new short," Higuchi said. "It is a love story from an Italian movie (La califfa); it is sad, serene, and I think it is very difficult for me to interpret. I hope I can perform it well."

Massimo Scali did Higuchi's free skate, set to music from Nikoli Rimsky-Korsakov's Scheherazade.

"It is a well-known story, and I think there is both strength and tenderness within the character, as well as the music, so I need to bring out both sides accordingly," the skater said.

Going abroad was an eye-opening experience for the Japanese silver medalist.

"Shae-Lynn really pays a lot of attention to details and the nuance of the program," Higuchi said. "Also, she used to be an ice dancer, so I was able to learn and imitate her ice dance moves, like how she uses her arms and her line. It was really inspiring."

The move paid off, as Higuchi not only achieved the highest technical score in Paris but also gained the second-highest components mark in the free skate.

With a silver or better at this week's NHK Trophy, Higuchi has a chance to qualify for the Grand Prix Final in Marseille.

"I strongly want to go to the Final," the skater said at the NHK Trophy press conference, held the night before the short program competition. "I was able to stay calm in my previous competition, and I got a good result. This time, I want to do even better."