Student figure skater competes in a national figure skating competition
A voice booms across the arena, announcing the next competitor. Conant sophomore, Taira Shinohara steps onto the ice, fighting the butterflies in his stomach with the excitement of competing in his first national competition. Looking around, he sees that everyone’s eyes are on him: strangers, family, friends, coaches, judges. Taking a deep breath, he glides into his routine, and after two days of competing, he takes home seventh place at the 2022 Toyota U.S. Figure Skating Championships.
Shinohara started skating at the age of six but didn’t start skating competitively until he was eleven. After his second year of competitive skating, his vision was fixed on competing at the national level.
Four years after beginning his competitive journey, Shinohara climbed the ranks and made his way to the US Figure Skating national competition.
In figure skating, there are several levels: the senior level is the highest, followed by the junior level, juvenile, and several lower levels. Shinohara currently skates at the junior level and will be a senior skater next season. For each level, US Figure Skating has a championship series, where there are 8 competitions. Skaters can choose to compete in up to two of them, and of the two of them, the better score is recorded in the USA Figure Skating system.
Placing in the top 3 in one of the three sections- eastern, midwestern, or pacific- secures competitors a spot in the national competition. After competing in two of the championship series competitions, Shinohara came in third place in the midwestern section, allowing him to qualify for the national competition.
However, nothing came without a few bumps in the road. Shinohara initially struggled with his jump consistency, which sometimes cost him when competing. “Sometimes, my jumps weren’t stable, and in local competitions, I fell a few times,” said Shinohara.
He continued to work on his consistency, which improved his performance in the national competitions.
This year, the national competition was held at the Bridgestone Arena in Nashville, Tennessee, where skaters from different age groups and from all over the country traveled to compete. Although Shinohara had the chance to meet new skaters and greet old friends, the air between the skaters was competitive. However, he took it as motivation.
“There’s this cool vibe that everyone is serious, which makes you motivated to do your best at the competition,” Shinohara said.
Shinohara was slightly anxious before his performance; he was more focused on seeing what he was capable of. “I got a little nervous, but more than that, I was excited to see what I can do at my first nationals,” he said.
He was initially unsatisfied with his performance, but he decided to look passed his missteps and work for future seasons.
“It was my first nationals and I was proud of what I was able to do. I’m looking forward to the next season, because seeing what other junior skaters do and [watching them] perform well makes me want to work towards it,” Shinohara said.
Shinohara gives credit to his family for their unconditional love and support for his figure skating career. His mom drove him to the competition and packed food to help him maintain his nutrition and fuel for competing. His father, sister, and grandma were also watching him compete, and he appreciated their presence among the spectators.
“I drive, I feed, I cheer, and I enjoy,” said Taira’s mom.
He also thanks his coaches for helping him become the kind of athlete he strives to become, and his teachers for being flexible around his schedule and career, allowing him to move around his school work and test schedules.
His work ethic and motivation isn’t only limited to his skating career: he is just as dedicated to his academic career.
“He keeps up with all the homework and makes up tests immediately. Taira is a model student in my class,” said his math teacher, Steve Kurfess.
Though Shinohara has already placed at a national-level competition, his journey isn’t over yet. While he is proud of his accomplishments, he continues to seek growth and improvement.
“I’m looking at [nationals] as a good experience. Now I’m working on perfecting my triple axle and quadruple jumps,” said Shinohara.
Shinohara wants to use his mistakes and shortcomings from this nationals competition to refine his skills and become the best skater he could possibly become. Shinohara’s next goal is an international assignment so he can gain exposure to figure skating beyond the USA.
Check out this video of Taira’s short program at nationals:
Check out this video of Taira’s free skate program at nationals: