An Interview with Yu Yoneya: A New Star Aiming for the Sochi Olympics

Introduction

Slopestyle skier Yu Yoneya, member of the Japanese national team, joined Arc Communications in July 2013. This 23 years old skier is working full-time while keeping his mind set on participating in the Sochi Olympic Games on February 7 2014.

In slopestyle ski, athletes score points by making use of the jump ramps and jib items (artificial obstacles) placed on the course to execute acrobatic tricks. Still relatively unknown in Japan, slopestyle skiing has become an Olympic sport and will hopefully grab the public's interest.

In this interview, we asked the young skier about how he met ski orienteering enthusiast and Arc Communications President Mariko Ohsato, and about the world cups he will be competing in to integrate Japan's national team.

Table of contents

Training to overcome one's fears

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Ohsato: To be perfectly honest, I knew nothing about slopestyle skiing. What made you start practicing this sport?

Yoneya: I went to see a snowboarding event, and while I was thinking "man, it'd look cool if I could do these tricks" a slopestyle skier appeared for an exhibition! From the very moment I saw it, everything changed. It's what you might call a predestined encounter.

Ohsato: How is it different from mogul skiing?

Yoneya: Well, first of all, there are no restrictions as to the tricks you can make. In mogul skiing during jump practice, you can't turn more than once on yourself.
On the other hand, in slopestyle you're free to rotate as many times as you want, so you can freely attempt creative and daring moves. Also, you can jump backwards! That's why the tip and the tail of the skies are slightly bent up.

Ohsato: I guess we can say it's a sport that requires a lot of guts, doesn't it?

Yoneya: It's a constant fight with your fears. And to overcome them, all you can do is train. To be honest, I scare really easily. (laughs)
But I would definitely regret it if I spent my time frightened and running away from it, so I put all my efforts in training. There's no other way. I think the fear factor becomes a real boost in this sport.

Ohsato: You talk about training but since there is no snow during the summer, how do you train in general?

Yoneya: Well, extreme sportsmen like skateboarders and BMX bikers often train by water jumping. It consists in sliding on a brush ramp and jumping in the air before landing in the pool water. To a certain extent, it allows you to practice jumps under conditions that are pretty close to the real ones. Then you have trampolines; this helps not to forget what it's like to be in mid-air. But the most important is thinking about it: picturing what you can see while jumping in the air, spinning your chopsticks at lunch to visualize various tricks…
People often think I'm daydreaming, but most of the time I'm just thinking about skiing.

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Ohsato: For sports like cross country skiing that require a huge amount of stamina, the skier's basic practice is carried out on the snow and for an overwhelming amount of time. Then it all really depends on the skier's capacities. For slopestyle skiing, however, mentally visualizing your actions is also very important. So it's even possible to become a top ski athlete despite living in Tokyo.

Yoneya: Exactly. Because if you try a trick on a snow course without having visualized yourself perfectly completing it, you'll end up being a nuisance to other people on the ski trail. So it's really crucial to work on the mental aspect during the summer.

Ohsato: Could you manage many tricks from the very beginning?

Yoneya: I'm pretty confident in saying that I'm no genius. (laughs) When I started at the age of 17, unlike most other slopestyle skiers, I had no gymnastics or skateboarding background whatsoever. I was a soccer-head. So when I started, younger kids were way better than I was. It was really frustrating, but I didn't let it get me down. I persevered, tried to understand what I wasn't doing right and corrected things one by one. I thinks that's why I improved.

Ohsato: What was it that helped you make your way to the top as a slopestyle skier in Japan?

Yoneya: It was in 2010, when I participated to the Sanosaka Open. There was this really bold move I wanted to try in that competition, but no one around me thought I could pull it off. They would say, it was impossible.
I found that really annoying, so I trained hard with my coach, and on the day of the competition I managed to win with that trick. This experience really gave me confidence.

It all started with an e-mail

Ohsato: I received my first message from you two years ago. It was around the time when, after Arc started sponsoring Yuichi Onda (cross country sky, Japanese national team member), we would receive many messages from athletes in a variety of minor sports asking for support.
At that time, I tried to look you up on the Internet but there wasn't a single piece of information to find. So I advised you to start by enhancing your Web visibility and making yourself known.

Yoneya: That e-mail was unsparing. It read: "First of all, I don't know who you are. Start by sharing information about yourself". But since no one had ever given me any advice until then, I felt grateful for the feedback. No company would receive a slopestyle skier and, to be perfectly honest, I didn't have a clue what to do. So I put your advice to practice straightaway by starting a blog, Facebook and Twitter accounts. When I asked for some more advice, you told me, "build yourself a network in your home area". So, completely uninvited, I went to pay a courtesy call at my old high school. (laughs)

Ohsato: That was quite impressive! Most people couldn't just go pay a courtesy call totally uninvited. (laughs)

Yoneya: And on May 15 2013, I sent you another message. I'd done what you had suggested me to do and wanted to know what the next step was. That's when you said we should meet up.

Ohsato: To tell the truth, I sent the same kind of advice to other aspiring athletes, but you were the first one to follow my word and come back to me afterwards. Then, when I met you I thought, "He could definitely work with Arc while aiming for the world leagues. We could put your skills to good use and build a win-win relationship for you as a skier and for our company".

Yoneya: And the night after meeting, I received a message from you.
It said, "Let's aim for the world together." That made me so happy!

I couldn't even tie my necktie by myself!

Ohsato: It's been a few months since you entered Arc in July, how are you getting used to it?

Yoneya: Actually, the first time I went to a customer's with a colleague, I couldn't even tie my necktie by myself…

Ohsato: So what happened then?

Yoneya: He tied it for me. (laughs) He had to tie my necktie for me several times but I've recently become able to do it by myself.

Ohsato: I heard that your colleague couldn't believe his eyes. (laughs)

Yoneya: I tend to get scolded a lot, but I enjoy working. Mr. Horie is my senior, as a skier and as an employee at Arc, and he teaches me a lot. At the moment, I'm in charge of making promotional direct mails, updating Arc's homepage, and I help contacting new potential customers. Also, I take care of updating the website for our ski team that's made up of Yuichi Honda (cross country ski), Morihiro Horie (ski orienteering) and myself.

Ohsato: It's true that you still have lots to learn, but you are good at getting things done and putting your learnings to practice. Top athletes are experts at continuously making efforts to bring out the best possible performance. I would like you to devise your trainings according to your strengths and weaknesses, persist in pursuing routine exercises so as to improve your performance at the office and on the ski tracks.

Yoneya: There really are many things that I need to learn from work. For example: how to effectively manage your time. I sometimes ask myself why I still haven't finished a task I was meant to complete by 6 o'clock, and it's usually because I didn't do it right. It's very similar to when I can't pull off certain ski tricks, so I'll do my best to improve my skiing skills by better managing the way I work.

Placing 8th at the World Cup and going to the Olympics

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Ohsato: At long last, the world cups that will enable you to make your way into the Sochi Olympics are coming up.

Yoneya: Yes, I will be participating to three world cups until mid-January 2014. The first one is on December 16 in Denver (America), the second one will be held on January 6 in California and the last one on January 18 in Switzerland. There are two positions for Japanese skiers at the Olympics, but the Ski Association of Japan will only send those who placed in the top 8 at a World Cup. So if I manage to make it to the top 8 in at least one of the upcoming world cups, I should get my spot for the Olympics.

Ohsato: What's your personal best?

Yoneya: 9th.

Ohsato: That's tricky, isn't it?

Yoneya: Yes, but I think I have my chances.

Ohsato: First of all, you have to keep your sight set on the upcoming Sochi Games. You're still young so Sochi isn't everything, there will also be the Pyeongchang Olympics in 4 years too. What counts is to never give up! Whatever the results. Still, if you make it to Sochi, slopestyle will become the center of attention. Therefore, even while trying to live up to everyone's expectations, never forget to be yourself. And, by the way, I have never seen a slopestyle competition live, so I'm looking forward to seeing what it's like at the Sochi Olympics!

Yoneya: I am very grateful to Arc for their support. Thanks to you, I don't feel like I'm on my own anymore. So, with Arc, I'll try my best to get my ticket to the Japanese national team!

Postscript from the Interviewer

After the interview was carried out on November 27 2013, Yu Yoneya left to train in Colorado, America. Since he's almost like a "son" to me, I told him to "be careful not to catch a cold", as any mother would do. He still looks very young, but I think he has the charisma to fight on the global scene.

The Arc Communications Ski Team Fan Club sends out news flashes on the results at the world cup, necessary to go to the Olympics. Thank you for encouraging our second potential Olympic skier following in the steps of Yuichi Onda.

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Arc Communications President Mariko Ohsato

Afterword

Would you be interested in joining the "Arc Communications Ski Team Fan Club" and supporting Yu Yoneya?

We are planning fan events such as send-off parties and others during the off-season where fans can talk personally with him. Let's pursue the Olympic dream with Yu Yoneya!

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