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Suguri not ready to hang up her skates

Says she still gets a rush from skating

Fumie Suguri hopes to regain her mojo by training with Nikolai Morozov.
Fumie Suguri hopes to regain her mojo by training with Nikolai Morozov. (Getty Images)

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By Jack Gallagher, special to icenetwork.com
(11/08/2007) - YOKOHAMA, Japan -- After finishing fourth at the Turin Olympics, where many observers felt she performed well enough to earn a medal, Fumie Suguri could have hung up her amateur skates for good.

The four-time Japanese national champion had carved out a very respectable career for herself. A two-time Olympian, who won the Grand Prix Final in 2003, she was assured of a solid future in some capacity in skating.

But there was just one problem with this scenario. Suguri, who is now 26, wasn't ready for it. At least not yet.

And so on she skates. Retaining her amateur status, Suguri will be eligible to compete for a spot at the 2010 Vancouver Olympics if she so desires. The feeling among many in the Japanese skating community is that she will persevere in hopes of capturing the elusive medal.

When Sasha Cohen struggled in her free program in Turin, it looked like the lively Suguri had assured herself of a spot on the podium. But it wasn't meant to be, and after finishing fifth in Salt Lake City in 2002, she saw her hopes dashed again.

Despite the disappointment, Suguri says it is the rush she gets from skating and her love of the sport which keeps her going.

"It is really a different atmosphere before a competition and a show," Suguri said during a recent interview. "I still get really nervous before an event. I get very edgy, but in a good way. This feeling gives me power and that is what keeps me skating as an amateur still."

While Suguri may not be the best jumper, she has outstanding presentation skills which give her a powerful presence on the ice. This is what gives the native of Chiba Prefecture her bliss.

"I am really interested in the artistic part more than the sports side, but the best part about figure skating is that these two elements work in tandem. I like the combination of the two.

Suguri, who has medaled three times (one silver, two bronze) at the world championships, will be making her Grand Prix season debut at this weekend's Cup of China in Harbin. Her appearance in last month's U.S.-Japan International Counter Match in Yokohama was her first in competition in nearly 10 months.

"I felt very tired after this competition, because I haven't participated in a competitive event since the nationals last December. It has been a long time.

"I don't think my age is the reason I struggled. I believe the change in the rules is. I knew the old rules well, but the new ones are very different and have to get my body to adjust to the new rules."

Suguri made light of her "old" age -- especially when surrounded by teen skaters Mao Asada, Miko Ando and Rumi Suizu -- during the recent event.

"The skaters are getting younger, and the media likes the younger skaters a lot," Suguri noted. "I seem to be going in the opposite direction. I may become the oldest skater in figure skating history," she said with a laugh.

It is a reflection on the shelf-life of a competitive skater that, at 26, Suguri could be considered old. But in light of her longtime rival, Shizuka Arakawa, becoming the oldest female gold medalist (at 25) in singles history at the Turin Games, it is not difficult to see why Suguri wants to keep the door open as an amateur.

The three-time Four Continents champion, who is still in great shape, is now living and training in Moscow under Russian coach Alexander Zhulin, where she is keeping the dream alive.

This season Suguri is using "Cell Block Tango" as the music for her short program and "Oblivion" for her free skate.

Suguri, who won the NHK Trophy in 2003, is scheduled to participate in the Cup of Russia later this month in her new "hometown."

"I am really looking forward to competing in Moscow. I have been trying to learn the language and get adjusted to life there."

When she finally does decide to retire from amateur skating, Suguri wants to stay close to the sport that has been her life.

"I want to do some work related to skating. Maybe shows, maybe coaching, maybe choreography. I don't know yet, but I really want to be involved with skating."

Though she claims to enjoy the artistic part of skating most, one gets the feeling that deep inside Suguri burns a fierce desire to be the very best.