2018: A year to savour for Japan
Team Satsuki Fujisawa's story: From rivals to Grand Final contenders
It is hard to describe the level of impact Team Satsuki Fujisawa have had on curling in Japan. The sport has seen significant growth since its introduction at the 1998 Olympics in Nagano, but it took two decades until they earned their first medal.
In PyeongChang, the team known as Loco Solare defeated Great Britain’s former world champions, Team Eve Muirhead, in the bronze-medal match. It sparked jubilation just across the Sea of Japan and overnight Yurika Yoshida, Yuri Suzuki, Chinami Yoshida and Satsuki Fujisawa became superstars in their homeland.
The team’s coach, J.D. Lind, said at the time it was a “huge day” for Japanese curling and they had “created history” – and indeed, they did. Two years prior to the Olympics, the same rink also claimed Japan’s first honour at world level – a silver medal at the World Women’s Curling Championship.
Rivals from a young age, Chinami and her younger sister Yurika played alongside Suzuki since they were six years of age, while competing against their now skip, Fujisawa. It wasn’t until 16 years later when they became a foursome.
Chinami recalls the moment they became a unit: “We met first time as a little curler when we were seven years old – even though we’re still short now!” Satsuki had been a good rival for 16 years. I can’t forget how excited we were that Satsuki decided to play with us in 2015.”
Satsuki returned to Kitami, where she grew up, and joined the team as replacement for Mari Motohashi – the founder of Loco Solare - who was pregnant at the time. The foursome have been inseparable since.
Months after forming as a new team, they won a gold medal at the Pacific-Asia Curling Championship in 2015 and booked a spot at the worlds the following year, when they captured that silver medal.
But 2018 was the year they built a legacy for themselves, beginning with the bronze medal in South Korea. They capped off the calendar year by winning Curling World Cup leg two in Omaha which gave them a berth in the Grand Final in Beijing.
And now they have the opportunity of becoming the inaugural Curling World Cup 2019-2020 champions, a prospect Chinami is relishing.
“I think anyone would be excited to win the Curling World Cup for first time ever in curling history,” says the 27-year-old vice-skip. “It would be a huge achievement for us.
“We weren’t able to qualify for the LGT World Women’s Curling Championship in Denmark this year, so we are excited to have a chance to become the champions of the world in Beijing.”
To reach the showpiece final in China, the team had to endure a familiar feeling during the final’s last stone in Omaha. Akin to 11 months prior in PyeongChang, their opponent had an opportunity to win and like then, saw Korea’s skip Minji Kim fail to draw to the four foot.
“Obviously we lost the Asia-Pacific final to the same team,” explains Chinami. “So, we were looking forward to playing against them again. Everybody was looking forward to the Curling World Cup before the season and we wanted to show the great game of curling to our fans.”
A spot confirmed in the inaugural Curling World Cup Grand Final was the icing on the cake in 2018 for the quartet. Unfortunately, they were unable to win the Japanese national championships, missing out on competing at the LGT World Women’s Curling Championship.
There was disappointment back home, where no foursome has made a bigger impact on curling than Team Fujisawa. But for Chinami, it is just the start of a long journey.
“Curling is still a minor sport but is growing in Japan. The Curling World Cup is the best chance for the Japanese to know what curling is because they love watching any World Cup on TV.
“I’m trying to do my best as a curler representing Japan for it to be a major sport just like soccer in the country. I hope curling can be one of the most popular sports in the world in the future.”
Many have spoken on the post-Olympic struggles that athletes can experience, and with a bronze medal round her neck and national acclaim, Chinami says she is “proud” with her rink’s response after PyeongChang during the 2018-2019 season.
“This season was an unforgettable campaign for us definitely. I think many people might remember the games we won on the big stages, but we have experienced plenty of tough games as well.
“I’m so proud with the way this team have overcome the hardships and low points since the Olympics.”
Before the team head to the Shougang Arena in Beijing for the Grand Final, they will compete in the Players’ Championship in Canada, where aside from stones on ice, table tennis will be high on the agenda.
“My teammates are table tennis crazy!” reveals the elder Yoshida. “We always have to rent the same house in Canada for just one reason only – there is a table tennis table in the living room.”
With table tennis being China’s national sport, they can be sure of finding a table, bats and balls in Beijing to enjoy some down time from what will be an intense event to end a wonderful season.