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Springs snips: 'Mr. Sato' honored as skater, coach

Lacoste wins battle with Phaneuf for Canadian spot at worlds

Nobuo Sato, who won 10 consecutive Japanese national titles, was honored in Colorado Springs.
Nobuo Sato, who won 10 consecutive Japanese national titles, was honored in Colorado Springs. (Getty Images)

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By Lynn Rutherford, special to icenetwork.com
(02/12/2012) - In the figure skating world, he is "Mr. Sato," the revered dean of Japanese coaches who has trained champions including Shizuka Arakawa, Miki Ando, Yukari Nakano and, most famously, his daughter Yuka, the 1994 world champion.

Currently, he coaches two-time world champion Mao Asada and 2011 world silver medalist Takahiko Kozuka.

"He's my role model to look up to," Yuka said of her father, Nobuo, who was honored prior to the men's free skate on Friday at the Four Continents Championships. "He is probably the hardest working person I've ever known. I grew up watching him work so hard on a daily basis, starting at 6 a.m. and going through 9 or 10 p.m., repeatedly."

The 70-year-old Sato, inducted into the World Figure Skating Hall of Fame in 2010, won 10 consecutive Japanese men's titles (1956-65) and represented Japan at the 1960 and 1964 Olympic Winter Games.

Colorado Springs holds special meaning for him, on two counts.

"At the world championships held here in 1965, I was able to do the triple Salchow for the first time," Nobuo said through an interpreter. "I finished fourth, and most of the content of the program, I skated pretty much the way I wanted to skate. It was the best position I was ever awarded.

"It is another coincidence that my daughter Yuka was the world junior champion in Colorado Springs [in 1990], so that also makes this place very special."

Sato retired from competition in 1966 and got an office job, but soon quit to devote himself full-time to helping prepare the 1968 Japanese Olympic skating team. Among his earliest students was Kumiko Okawa, whom he was to marry.

"When I first started coaching, I never imagined the Japanese team would come to the level we are today," Nobuo said. "I am so happy I was able to contribute to make the Japanese skaters stronger. Now, many of our skaters are coming home to train, and I am also happy to contribute to that."

Yuka, who now follows in her father's footsteps, appreciates her parents more now than she did as a skater.

"It wasn't always easy to work with your own parents as coaches," Yuka said. "My mother and my father, both of them intimately worked with me on the ice. There were tough times, but I think at the end of it they were just wonderful role models for me.

"When you're an athlete, everything is about you, but now that I'm behind the boards doing what they do, I totally appreciate and have a tremendous respect for what they've done and what they will always do for their skaters."

As Yuka and her husband Jason Dungjen coach top U.S. skaters Jeremy Abbott, Alissa Czisny and Adam Rippon in Detroit, Yuka is constantly inspired by her father's example.

"What is amazing about him is he'll just always be there for you, whether or not you have a question," she said. "Sometimes he will not say anything; he will just be there for you. And his existence near you just means so much. I'll catch him watching my students practice and I'm so happy to have him around. It's so comforting.

"So one day I would like to be like my dad."

Lacoste wins Canadian ladies contest

Last month, Amelie Lacoste edged Cynthia Phaneuf for the Canadian title. It was a close result, and Phaneuf had a stronger record at worlds, so Skate Canada announced it would hold a "skate-off" here in Colorado Springs for their one ladies' spot at the 2012 World Figure Skating Championships in Nice, France at the end of March.

Once again, Lacoste edged her rival, placing seventh with 147.65 points. Phaneuf finished just 0.18 points behind in eighth place.

"It wasn't a very strong performance," Lacoste said of her free skate, during which she fell on a double Axel and popped an intended triple flip into a single.

"I made a lot of mistakes. I'm happy about landing the triple Lutz, and the main goal here was to get the spot for worlds. Now I can go back home and train without that extra pressure."

Phaneuf, a two-time Canadian champion, was gracious in defeat.

"It was so close at nationals and so close here," she said. "Maybe it's a sign to go back home and work harder on stuff.

"It was the best for me and Amelie. It was a good thing because we were pushing each other. I'm sure this competition between us has been making us better skaters. I wish her the best for worlds."