Japan’s Mai Mihara has navigated a rocky road the past couple of years. A star on the rise in the 2018-2019 season, Mihara captured four medals on the international stages including the Winter Universiade title. But shortly after that season ended she was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis.

Though many would have hung up their skates given the situation, Mihara persevered, determined to return to the sport she loves.

At 2020 NHK Trophy, her first competitive appearance in 21 months, Mihara finished fourth. A month later, she skated into fifth place at the All Japan Championships.

This season she has been on fire. At her first event, the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy — the Challenger Series stop in Beijing — she claimed the title, defeating her long-time training mate Kaori Sakamoto by 1.30 points.

When an injured Rika Kihira withdrew from 2021 Skate Canada International, Mihara was assigned to replace her. She finished fourth in Vancouver with a new personal best score for the free skate, and her combined total of 210.01 was a 6.43-point improvement over her first outing in Beijing.

Mihara then went directly to her originally assigned Grand Prix competition, Gran Premio D’Italia in Torino, Italy, where she again finished fourth with a new personal best in both the free and combined scores. She closed out that competition with 214.95 points.

“Doing back-to-back competitions was the first time for me and I was nervous. Overall, I skated more lively,” the Kobe native said. “I am still not at the level of the top skaters in the world or Japan. I want to keep up and catch up to them.”

At the All Japan Championships in late December — the qualifying competition for the 2022 Olympic Winter Games — Mihara finished in fourth place and was not named to the team that will compete in Beijing.

Competing at the Four Continents Championships in late January, Mihara won the short program over two strong South Korean rivals, Haein Lee and Yelim Kim. “At the end of the year, I was very disappointed not making it to the Olympics, but I wanted to participate in Four Continents and I was really looking forward to it,” said the 22-year-old.

“This is my fourth Four Continents. I have been on the podium at the last three (gold in 2017, silver in 2018 and bronze in 2019). I want to get back on the podium so I can combine that with my future plans. My aim and goal is for the gold medal — not the small gold medal I have around my neck right now — the larger one. I hope I can do everything that I plan to do and overcome all the regrets and bitterness I felt at nationals.”

Last to skate in the free, Mihara delivered a solid performance to “Fairy of the Forest,” executing six triple jumps and two level-four spins. As she went into the final spin, she lost her balance and was unable to complete it. But that mistake made no difference, and once again Mihara posted a personal best score of 145.41 for the segment and with 218.03 points in total waltzed off with her second Four Continents crown.

At the post-event press conference Mihara was beaming behind her mask. “I am incredibly happy now. I was just so nervous today before the program, maybe because I was skating last. I was crying even before I went on to the ice; I was trying not to cry but tears were welling up. I was asking myself what I was going to do, but then I said to myself there is no choice — I just have to go and do this. At the end there was a little bit of a glitch on the spin and I really regret that, but there were no major mistakes.

“Thanks to all the fans and the audience for supporting me so I was able to perform well today.”