Rarely seen without a smile on his face, Japan’s Kazuki Tomono is one of the most popular skaters among his peers and a global fan favorite.
Watching him compete, his love of skating is obvious, performing programs that reflect his upbeat character, and his exhibition numbers are always something special.
Tomono made his international debut in 2011 at age 13, finishing seventh at the Asian Open Trophy at the junior level. Six years later, he moved into the senior ranks, making his Worlds debut in 2018 following the withdrawal of Yuzuru Hanyu.
Tomono placed third in the free skate in Milan, finishing in fifth place overall, which helped guarantee Japan three spots at the 2019 World Championships.
Last season, he claimed bronze on the Grand Prix circuit, and silver at 2022 Four Continents, his first Championships medal.
Tomono opened the current season at Nebelhorn Trophy, a competition that did not go according to plan. Errors on all three jumping passes in his fast-paced short program left him in a distant 11th place in the field of 15.
His free skate was a little rocky technically, but it was good enough for a third-place finish in the segment and he pulled up to fourth overall. “I’m always very weak at the beginning of a season,” Tomono admitted, adding that his goal is to become more confident in his performances as the season progresses. “In order to do that, I needed to reflect on the result of that competition and train harder for the upcoming events.”
Despite that outing not going well, Tomono believes he is well prepared for what lies ahead. During the off-season he focused on mastering quads, and worked on his skating skills and spins. He spent part of the summer training with the team at the Toronto Cricket Club, which he said was a valuable experience.
“I learned many exercises and worked on the basics. But most of all, I worked on the jumps so that I won’t be afraid of the quads. When my fear of the quads passes, I can focus on the smaller details of the programs.”
Those routines, choreographed by Misha Ge, reflect two different styles, but both suit Tomono well. The goal, he said, is to present his personality, “and also to challenge myself.” Misao Sato crafted his exhibition program to “What’s my Name? – Day 2 Mix” by Miyavi, a well-known Japanese musician.
“My short program (“Happy Jazz”) is at a fast tempo, which is new for me but suits my personality very well. I have never done this before, and that is why I chose this music for the short program,” he explained.
The free skate, set to the “Overture” from the comic operetta “Die Fledermaus” by Johan Strauss II, is also something new for Tomono, who had never skated to music from that genre before.
“I think this piece embodies ‘Kazuki Tomono’ quite well, and at the same time, it is a new challenge,” the 24-year-old said. “The theme of both programs is to challenge myself and to also show my fun personality. I want the audience to feel a sense of happiness and enjoyment when I skate, and I am delighted when the impression of ‘happy’ is conveyed.
“I want this feeling of happiness to continue to reach the audience because it is who I am. I also want to present my personality and deliver performances that make the spectators happy. It would be good if I could incorporate this positive side of me into all my programs.”
A post-Olympic season always provides an opportunity for the next generation of skaters to rise and shine, and Tomono feels that with his results last season he has set himself up well. “I don’t want to waste the progress I made last season, so this year I must aim much higher. It’s difficult because I’ve already seen the top, so I want to work to become a top athlete.”
The men’s field in Japan is deep and very competitive, and even though two-time Olympic champion Yuzuru Hanyu has retired from competition, Shoma Uno, the reigning World champion, and Yuma Kagiyama, the 2022 Olympic silver medalist, have accepted the mantle and lead the way at this time.
“After Hanyu announced his retirement, a figure skating era seemed to have ended. I had the feeling that after the Olympics a new era had begun,” said Tomono, whose main goal this season was to make the World team. He achieved that goal with a third-place finish at the Championships last week.
“I don’t want to lose to the next generation. I want to win a World medal. To do that, I first needed to medal at the national championships and have the feeling of being a winner,” he explained. “Among the Japanese men there is great competition, and they are all very strong. If you don’t approach competitions with such a feeling, you cannot prevail in Japan. That is the strength I need the most.
“Other than Shoma and Yuma, there are many athletes who are fighting at an international level. This started with the success of Hanyu and other predecessors, but also with athletes like Yuma. We can see with our own eyes how he is developing. I think this encourages us all to continue to develop.
“If you don’t try to keep up with Shoma and Yuma, you can’t win, so I need to keep that in mind as I work on myself.”
Tomono said his love of the sport comes from its individuality and the opportunities it offers. “What I like about figure skating is that anyone can become a hero. Everyone has the opportunity to take on a leading role. Of course, it’s great when you jump or do spins, but the fact that you can show off your own personality on the ice is what is special about figure skating, and that is what I like the most.”
Like many athletes, Tomono struggles with the mental side and believes that having even just a small amount of regret during training “connects with defeat.”
“Of course, you can’t lose focus in any sport, but if you make just one mistake (in figure skating), it immediately affects your placement. I think that’s what makes the sport so difficult — finding a balance with many elements to consider.
“It’s important to understand yourself first and foremost, so I want to be honest with myself. I have to grasp what is good for my state of mind. It is important to get that under control. And it is important to train every day with no regrets.”
Tomono said he is inspired by some of his Japanese peers, such as Hanyu, Tatsuki Machida and Daisuke Takahashi. “I admire Hanyu as an athlete. We competed together, and I saw how he went into competitions. I think as an athlete he is the highest goal to achieve. Not only in this sport but in general, he is an athlete to look up to.
“Machida and I trained together for a while. How he approached his training and how he approached the sport impressed me. His words were supported by actions, so the influence that Machida had on me is very big.”
Takahashi is an athlete Tomono has admired from a young age, citing his figure skating skills and personality as two of his best traits. When Takahashi returned to the sport as an ice dancer, Tomono found it “very exciting.”
“It was like being in a dream. I was very surprised,” he said. “He belonged to a different era, and I never thought we would be competing together, so it is really great that we can now. Even though he is in a different discipline, when I watch him skate I learn a lot from him. He seems to love ice dance, and through him this discipline will surely get more attention in Japan. He really contributes a lot to the figure skating world and is a first-class athlete.”
Though he has not settled on a post-competitive career, Tomono believes he will stay involved in the sport in one way or another when the time comes to hang up his skates. “I haven’t made up my mind yet. It is a bit difficult, but I like to think about figure skating,” he said.
“And considering that I have made it this far, if I could make even a small contribution to the Japanese figure skating world, I would be very happy. I definitely want to stay in touch with figure skating.
“But first of all, I need to focus on myself and do what I want to do.”