Japan’s Mai Mihara was a star on the rise during the 2018-2019 season, capturing four medals, including gold at the Winter Universiade. But shortly after that season ended, the Kobe native was diagnosed with juvenile arthritis, which in turn led to other health issues that prevented her from training and competing.
As the months passed, many wondered if Mihara would ever return to the competitive stage. But showing the grit and determination she is known for, she returned to training and made her first competitive appearance in 21 months, finishing fourth at the 2020 NHK Trophy. A month later, she placed fifth at the national championships.
Mihara opened the 2021-2022 season with a win at the Asian Open Figure Skating Trophy, defeating her long-time training mate Kaori Sakamoto by 1.30 points.
On the heels of that result, and following the withdrawal of an injured Rika Kihira, Mihara was assigned to Skate Canada International, where she finished in fourth place. The then 22-year-old earned 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 went directly from Canada to her assigned Grand Prix competition, Gran Premio D’Italia in Torino, Italy, where she finished fourth with an improved overall total of 214.95 points, and again turned in a personal best in the free skate.
This season she has come out with all cylinders firing. At her first assignment, the MK John Wilson Trophy in Sheffield in mid-November, Mihara led the field from start to finish and captured the first Grand Prix title of her career.
Two weeks later she headed to Espoo, Finland, for her second assignment. Despite admitting to a case of nerves, Mihara was solid in her short program set to “Merry Christmas Mr. Lawrence,” finishing second to Belgium’s Loena Hendrickx with a personal best score of 73.58.
“The music was chosen by (Canadian choreographer) David Wilson. He told me to put all my feelings into it and to reflect on my whole life in this short program,” Mihara explained. “When the choreography begins, it shows how I have struggled in my life, but then as the music goes on – when the step sequence comes and the music goes toward the peak of the program, that part shows how happy I feel to skate, to be here, to be back on the scene.
“As I was feeling all this, I couldn’t help crying in the step sequence. But in the end, I was really happy that I was able to concentrate and to put all the feelings into the program. I am so thankful that I am here. I was able to show all I had.
“Everyone is cheering for me to get to the Grand Prix Final. So, I always try to hold the word ‘Final’ in my heart as I go on with my competitions.”
Skating second to last in the free, Mihara laid down a stirring performance to “El Amor Brujo,” executing five triple jumps, but earned a downgrade on an intended triple flip, which she doubled, and two ‘q’s’ for a toe and a Lutz executed in combinations.
But, the judges acknowledged the quality of her skating, awarding Mihara a high components score and 130.56 points in total for the free skate. Her combined total of 204.14 put her into first place by 0.23 of a point over Hendrickx in the final standings.
“I cannot believe I am going to the Grand Prix Final. I am so happy,” said Mihara, noting that it had been seven years since her first and only trip to a Final where she competed at the junior level.
“I shouldn’t be too satisfied with my performance today. I should improve more. I have a lot of regrets with my free skate, but I am happy to go to the Final. I hope by then I overcome the obstacles and will get my levels up and become a stronger person. I was not in my best condition, but from now on I really want to show my best.”
Mihara advances to the Final in first place in the standings, having earned 30 points for her two victories, the only woman on the circuit to achieve this result this season.
The 23-year-old said she is looking forward to going to Torino, citing the memorable Ina Bauer Shizuka Arakawa performed at the 2006 Olympic Winter Games in that city. “I want to enjoy every bit of it.”