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Dec 22, 2010

A Tribute to Number Threes: Akiko Suzuki

Today's Tribute to Number Threes is dedicated to Akiko Suzuki (previously featured was Alexander Abt).

Miss Suzuki's life story and skating career would not be out of place in a particularly heartwarming LifeTime documentary. Indeed, even the most jaundiced eyes and palsied hearts in figure skating are likely to have a soft spot for Miss Suzuki's story of perseverance and commitment.

Long ago, when Evgeni Plushenko still had choreography in his programs, Miss Suzuki was an extremely promising junior skater coming up the Japanese and international ranks. Even at the tender age of sixteen in 2002, Miss Suzuki showed flashes of her considerable charm and musicality that continues to set her apart from many ladies today:

However, like many skaters before--and after--her, Miss Suzuki fell victim to the extreme culture of vanity and physical perfection that plagues the figure skating world. Miss Suzuki's struggles with anorexia unfortunately curbed her promising career, causing her to sit out the entire 2003-2004 season.

Unlike the many other tragic stories of skating careers cut short by anorexia, Miss Suzuki has a happier ending. Inspired by compatriot Shizuka Arakawa's spectacular victory at the 2004 World Championships, Miss Suzuki mounted an impressive comeback to competitive figure skating. After about three seasons of languishing at the bottom of the competitive ranks, Miss Suzuki's perseverance paid off during the 2007-2008 season. Miss Suzuki capped off three consecutive victories at senior B competitions with an impressive fifth-place finish at the senior Japanese championships, catapaulting her at the top of the very competitive Japanese ranks for the 2008-2009 season. You can watch her long program at the 2007 Japanese National Championships HERE.

Miss Suzuki continued her climb up the competitive ranks in the following seasons. Her 2009-2010 competitive results speak for themselves: silvers at the Japanese National and Four Continents Championships, a bronze at the Grand Prix Final and top ten finishes at the Olympics and Worlds. But what really distinguished Miss Suzuki this season and won her many fans (including the one currently typing this post) was her West Side Story long program, featuring some very good choreography by Shae-Lynn Bourne. Miss Suzuki's West Side Story LP was arguably the best ladies' LP of the season and was the perfect vehicle to show off Miss Suzuki's considerable musicality, presence and natural exuberance. Miss Suzuki may not seem like the most likely skater to go rumbling off in the Bronx, but all this matters little when Miss Suzuki is selling her program so spectacularly and tugging at the audience's collective heartstrings:

Miss Suzuki has continued to skate this season, earning two respectable silvers on the Grand Prix circuit and a fourth-place finish at the Grand Prix Final. Although the judges seem to have finally acknowledged Miss Suzuki's existence with slightly increased PCS this season, her scores and results remain mystifyingly lower than what her actual performances deserve. Miss Suzuki may not have the most difficult or consistent jumps, but her jump content and consistency is on the whole is better than many ladies who place above her. Moreover, Miss Suzuki is clearly cognizant of the music playing during her program and interprets it quite well (indeed, a revolutionary concept), often giving inspired performances that endear her to audiences. Admittedly, Miss Suzuki's spins and carriage are not the best, but she makes up for it on elements like her strong footwork, maturity, presence, and commitment to choreography. Yet Miss Suzuki is clearly and consistently under-marked, the most recent example being the 2010 GPF when Miss Suzuki was held down in fourth place--behind a skater with 1980s jump content and another straight out of juniors, no less!--despite giving two solid performances, including one of the best LPs of the night:

One does not have to look far to figure out the crux of Miss Suzuki's constant underscoring, however. In keeping with our theme here, Miss Suzuki--like many other talented skaters coming from a country with a deep field--is being marked as the third-ranked skater in her country instead of on the basis of her actual performances. Actually, to be correct--Miss Suzuki appears to be further buried as the fourth-ranked skater in Japan this season, based on the push and promotion Kanako Murakami is receiving from the judges and the Japanese Skating Federation alike. As noted before in a prior post, Miss Suzuki is now consequently in danger of losing her spot on the Japanese world team, despite her considerable talent and current #2 world ranking. At the Japanese Nationals this weekend, it would not be entirely incorrect to say that Miss Suzuki's fate depends on Mao Asada's performances--if Miss Asada is anywhere near her top form, and Miss Murakami and Miki Ando manage to phone in half-decent performances, Miss Suzuki is unfortunately probably going to get the Yukari Nakano treatment.

 Japan is extremely fortunate to have such an embarassment in riches when it comes to ladies skating, but it's such a pity that this causes them to overlook protean gems like Miss Suzuki.

Good luck to Miss Suzuki this weekend, and Morozombie Claus is working hard on forging that French passport.


  1. Aww Morozombie!!! THANK YOU SO MUCH for this wonderful article!!! It should be read by every figure skating fan!!!
    I've become a big fan of Akiko watching her West Side Story programme, and I really think she's constantly undermarked. Are the judges even watching her performance? Her marks are too low, I'm so sad. But the good thing is more and more people are feeling this way and are wondering why her marks never match her actual performances.
    I was just happy she was ahead of no-emotion-boring-Ando at the GPF....I really hope she gets the gold medal at Nationals...but of course I'm dreaming again:(
    p.s. I loved your "Long ago, when Evgeni Plushenko still had choreography in his programs".....So true, so true.......;)
    Could you please write something about Gachinski copying Plushenko's nonsense-choreography, in the future? That would be fun:) If you agree and if you have time, of course.
    Thanks again for all these nice posts!!:)

  2. Oh and here's my sumi-e painting of her performing her WSS programme:

  3. +1

    Suzuki needs more love and at least one Nationals gold medal hanging around her neck. :)

  4. In terms of unappreciated abilities, she's definitely at the top. Her programs are always among the best of the season and her delivery is amazing. She commits fully to the music and choreography and never fails to "perform" when she skates. I hate how she's held down amongst the other Japanese ladies but I definitely enjoy her skating more than several others (*cough* Miki Ando *cough*)...