Meet Misato Komatsubara
Japanese ice dancer Misato Komatsubara represents her country with strength, love, and some seriously great skating skills. It's been a long journey from Japan to Milan to Montreal, Canada - where she and partner/husband/soulmate Tim Koleto moved this year in order to train with the best of the best at Centre Gadbois. Misato faces every challenge head-on and never loses her zest for life or her passion for skating. She is what the sport is really about: chasing your dreams and working your hardest at something you love, surrounded by the people you love. It was such a privilege to get to know this Japanese national champ and chat with her about her skating inspirations, joining the Gadbois family, and taking on her first World Championships with Tim!
Birthday: July 28th, 1992 (26 years old)
Born: Tokyo, Japan
Hometown: Okayama, Japan
Currently: Montreal, Quebec, Canada / Okayama, Japan
Country Represented: Japan
Skating Club: Kurashiki FSC
Discipline: Ice Dance
Partner: Tim Koleto
Training Location: Centre Gadbois in Montreal, Quebec, Canada / Okayama, Japan
Blades: MK Dance
A beautiful love story - on and off the ice! (Photo by Valery Sharifulin, TASS/Getty)
Q: You're from Japan - a country full of many, many talented figure skaters! Are there any particular skaters who you looked up to when you were younger? And what or who inspired you to start skating?
A: I started as a singles skater because my mom and I saw Daisuke Takahashi in our local newspaper, and we understood that Okayama is a strong city in the Japanese figure skating world. Plus, I was in the same elementary school class as (Japanese ice dancer) Emi Hirai. My mom asked the teacher what my strongest skill was, to start something, and the teacher answered that I dance and move well, so why not to try figure skating. Obviously, I always looked up to Daisuke, Keiji Tanaka, and many other skaters who were at the Kurashiki Figure Skating Club, my skating school.
Q: At the beginning of your ice dance career, you were the junior Japanese national champion three years in a row - twice with partner Kokoro Mizutani and later with Kaoru Tsuji. What were some of your best memories from that time?
A: My best memory with Kokoro was definitely 2011 Junior Worlds! I was very impacted by all the international competitors - some of them are still competing together and on the same team at Gadbois. That makes me realize how far I've come.
With Kaoru, it was the time we spent and learnt under Natalia Linichuk at IceWorks in the summer. It was hard, as I couldn't speak English, but Nataly tried to communicate with us and taught us so many things that I still remember. I am so appreciative!
#throwback to Misato's childhood skating days with her best friend Natsumi
Q: You then teamed up with Andrea Fabbri in 2013 and switched federations to represent his native country of Italy, moving to Milan and being coached by the great Barbara Fusar-Poli. What was it like having so many changes happening at once, and was it difficult learning the Italian language?
A: I remember I was super excited to move to Italy and start learning high-level ice dancing. I knew that it was a big change, but I did't feel any fear at that time. Then, day by day, I realized how hard it was to communicate with a partner and coaches in different languages. I was studying every day between the sessions and at home, but it's never enough to choose the words the way I want to say like I can in my language. I felt foolish, but it was necessary to feel that to push myself for studying; I couldn't do that if everyone around me was not there. I appreciate that they tried to talk with me and taught me, and I was so happy when we could share jokes in different languages.
Q: And then you came together with American-turned-Korean-skater-turned-Norwegian-skater Tim Koleto, and the rest is history - or as your free dance is titled, "une histoire d'amour." When did you know that you had found your soulmate, and what was your guys' wedding like?
A: Surprisingly, it felt so natural to skate with him and communicate with him. When we skated together for the first time at the tryout, I thought "This Is It. We should be a couple." It was my best instinctive choice, and it was the right feeling. We didn't do the big wedding yet, as we still need help from our parents to skate, so we don't ask for extra money.
Q: Before your third season together (aka this year), you and Tim packed your bags and moved across the world to Montreal, Canada, to train at the biggest ice dance school in the world: Gadbois! How hard was it to get a spot there, and what is the difference between the coaches there and coaches you had in the past?
A: When I saw Gabi and Guillaume at Europeans, when they became the European champions, I saw the new generation of ice dance in their programs. That was shocking to me in a good way, and we were super lucky to be accepted onto that dream team. We have a lot of high-level ice dance teams and coaches, and we all support each other and respect each other, always super professional. That team work makes the magic work, in my opinion.
Q: You and Tim just get better and better with each competition, and it's so wonderful to watch your progress and journey! I loved getting to see your programs at the US Classic this past September and then again in February at Four Continents. Can you tell us a bit about the idea and concept behind your RD and FD and what the process was like putting them together?
A: From the beginning, we wanted to do a classic tango but wanted to think bigger to get something that no one else had used. We thought about the piece “Loco” that Shoma (Uno) had used (in his 2016-17 FS) from an album that is an homage to Astor Piazzolla, but it had no obvious rhythm, so Marie and Romain suggested that we check out the rest of the album and that’s how we found the piece we are skating to. For the free dance, we have a Spotify playlist where we have music ideas for what we’re hoping to skate to eventually, probably many more than what we can ever do. Since we started skating together, we had the English version of our current free dance music, but Marie wanted more time to listen to different things, and we wanted to let our coach see us, see a style for us. After a few weeks, she brought us the French version, and we said yes. For the middle piece, we had local composer Karl Hugo, who works with Hugo Chouinard, put it together; it’s the same rhythm and music as the movie but with a slightly more modern orchestration.
Competing this year - almost eight, nine months with these programs - I feel like it has become very different from the beginning of the season, with more improvements and details everywhere. I realized that I really liked every part of the skating season: choreo time, the first competition of the season, the Grand Prix circuit, Nationals, ISU Championships. It’s so great to have so many opportunities to show our team art at many times and many places.
Misato Komatsubara + Tim Koleto = Team #KoKo !
Q: In our interview with Tim, he talked about how when the two of you first teamed up, you were both at a "crossroads of life." From your perspective, what was that time in your life like, having just switched partners again and feeling kind of a sense of finality?
A: As ice dancers, we always think and hope that each partnership will be a lasting one, but it’s not always easy to just keep continuing. I lost my hopes and dreams as a skater when I stopped skating with my former partner, and it was hard to decide to start again and look for a new one. My parents, coaches, and friends all helped me to understand that I really love skating; my parents, especially, encouraged me to keep searching for what I can do. I started to feel better day by day just skating alone and making all my basic skills better with my coaches. When I skated for the first time with Tim, it felt like the door for the future just opened.
Q: I've heard from several men whom I've interviewed that the ice dance world has a "family vibe" to it, but I'm curious what it's like from a woman's perspective, as the sport is so notoriously critical of female skaters. What are your feelings toward the skating world - and the ice dance world in particular?
A: I thought the same before I started speaking in English and started getting to know other international skaters or practicing together with other couples. Lately, I feel a family vibe in the dressing room, especially since we have lot of skaters at Gadbois. Sometimes, it's hard enough just to talk in the same language when skaters get nervous or are in the zone, but I've learned that you can concentrate without being mean.
Tim and Misato with some of their #EPMISS/Gadbois family, including (coach) Romain Haguenauer, Lilah Fear & Lewis Gibson, Kaitlin Hawayek & Jean-Luc Baker, and Tessa Virtue & Scott Moir
Q: What goals do you have for yourself as you head into your first World Championships this week? What emotions are you feeling right now?
A: This is our first senior Worlds together as ice dancers, so we're just pushing ourselves to bring our best performance at that moment. Strong skating and gliding - I don't want to be small and scared! I just want to skate with my heart filled with gratitude and love in front of my family, friends, coaches, and lovely fans. We're feeling very supported by the people who are around us.
Q: What do you want people to remember you and Tim for - in other words, what legacy do you hope to leave behind?
A: I want to be the one who can support other people and help them realize that you can make dreams come true if you love what you do and try your hardest and don't give up. And we want to make our programs one-of-a-kind art that people can remember and get emotional with, just like a movie. And I want to show future Japanese ice dancers that ice dance is cool, by getting good results and being the best Japanese ice dancers in the future with Tim.
Pure magic! (Photo by Igor Russak, NurPhoto/Getty)
Favorite thing about Montreal?
Street art on the walls and many fashionable coffee shops
Do you have any nicknames?
Mi-chan by old friends
Misatina by Tim and Ka2sh
Mishunichika by my Austrian friends
Miza by my Italian friends
Missattooo, Komacchan, Misacchan, etc.
What do you love the most about Tim?
He is very honest and sensitive in a good way and notices how other people are feeling
Favorite toy growing up?
Scissors, paper, pencils... always making some kind of “art”
Favorite program you and Tim have done?
"Une histoire d’amour" - it feels very natural to skate this character and program, and it just feels so good to skate it with my heart out!
A true "history of love" (Photo by Koki Nagahama, ISU/Getty)
What shows are you currently binge-watching on Netflix?
In total, how many countries have you been to?
Three adjectives you would use to describe yourself?
Positive, polite, and posh... I hope I can be like that lol!
If you owned a yacht, what would you name it?
Lady Shelly the 2nd (1st is my sweet doggo)
Quote to live by?
I love quotes. I never have enough space to write my favorite quotes, so I'm gonna choose my top three for now:
"Water is fluid, soft, and yielding. But water will wear rock, which is rigid and cannot yield. As a rule, whatever is fluid, soft, and yielding will overcome whatever is rigid and hard. This is another paradox: what is soft is strong." - Lao Tzu
"Be the person you want to have in your life." - internet
"The god of the luck has just bangs to grab. So you can stop him at your place just when you are ready to grab." - Daisuke’s mom
Uh oh, looks like Tim's got some (furry) competition!
Keep up with Misato
Team Facebook: Misato Komatsubara & Tim Koleto
Cheer on #TeamKoKo as they compete at their first World Championships together - watch the rhythm dance on Thursday, March 21st @ 11:00 PM ET and the free dance on Friday, March 22nd @ 11:30 PM ET (streaming info here)! And check out our interview with Tim here.
All other photos courtesy of Misato Komatsubara