Even in the swarm of skaters buzzing by each other during the final minutes of an open-ice session, Tomoki Hiwatashi stands out.
In one moment, the compact ball of energy speeds around the rink, fist-pumping to music that reverberates through the arena. In the next, his carefree smile stiffens as he attempts -- and lands -- a triple-double jump combination with ease.
Tomoki HiwatashiAge: 12
Hometown: Hoffman Estates
School: Thomas Jefferson Elementary School and Carl Sandburg Junior High
What's on your iPod? I like to listen to Anime songs.
What book are you reading? I just finished reading "The Last Dragon" and now I'm into the "Percy Jackson" series.
Who inspires you? My coach Sasha, who is a World Champion; Mao Asada, who is an Olympic silver medalist from Japan; and Yuzuru Hanyu, who is a world bronze medalist, also from Japan.
The three words that best describe you? Comical, Talkative, Flexible.
Given his unadulterated joy and unmatched skill, it's no wonder the spirited Hoffman Estates 12-year-old already is a two-time national figure skating champion.
"I like to glide on the ice and go fast and just jump and spin around," Tomoki said. "It makes the audience happy."
Tomoki's journey on the ice began at 5 years old when his parents, who moved to the U.S. from Japan before he was born, signed him up for figure skating lessons. They had no idea what they were getting into, as evidenced by the hockey skates they rented for him to wear.
Fast-forward to last December, when Tomoki handily won the intermediate men's title at the U.S. Junior Championships, beating out 15- and 13-year-olds for the gold medal. He was just 11 at the time.
It was a similar story in 2010, when Tomoki, now an incoming seventh-grader at Carl Sandburg Junior High in Rolling Meadows, hit all his jumps, including a double axel-double toe, en route to the top of the juvenile boys podium.
The competition will prove far fiercer this season, however, because the DuPage Figure Skating Club skater moved up to novice, just two notches below Olympians.
Tomoki knows he's in capable hands.
His coaches are the husband-and-wife team of Alexandre "Sasha" Fadeev and Cydele Fadeeva, who train Tomoki at the Centennial Ice Rink in Wilmette.
Fadeev holds the 1985 men's figure skating world title, besting future Olympic medalists Brian Orser of Canada and Brian Boitano of the U.S. He also won the USSR championships four times and skated in the 1984 and 1988 Winter Olympics.
"He's balanced, the whole package," Fadeev said of Tomoki.
Fadeeva, herself a former show skater, agrees Tomoki has made tremendous progress since approaching their company, Ice Entity, nearly three years ago. And her student doesn't complain despite all the ballet classes, running, strength conditioning and choreography lessons that comprise training sessions that can last five or six hours a day, six days a week.
"Some days are super long, but he just loves it," Fadeeva said. "He has a long way to go, but everything is coming together."
Tomoki's coaches say he's comical and a showman, qualities that immediately draw in his audience. He's also astonishingly flexible, one of the few males who perform the Biellman spin (picture him spinning on one foot while holding his other foot behind and extended over his head).
The key moving forward will be to maintain that flexibility while also gaining strength. He's a fast spinner and fairly strong jumper, having already mastered the triple Salchow and triple toe loop jumps.
But Fadeev said that similar to Evan Lysacek, the Naperville native who won the 2010 Olympic gold medal, Tomoki will be successful if he's the whole package.
They've got their sights on the 2022 Olympics and perhaps the 2018 Olympics in Pyeongchang, South Korea.
"The great thing is, he's still so young," Fadeeva said. "He has endless potential, and sponsors are starting to notice him."
In the meantime, Tomoki will try to continue balancing skating with school -- where his friends call him "Tomaguchi" in a nod to Olympian Kristi Yamaguchi -- and keep having fun along the way.
"I never had a time where I wanted to give up, but there have been times where I get frustrated," Tomoki said. "So I always just have fun, and that way I never get nervous.
"That's when I get first place, and I like getting first."
• Kimberly Pohl wrote today's column. She and Elena Ferrarin always are looking for Suburban Standouts to profile. If you know of someone whose story just wows you, please send a note including name, town, email and phone contacts for you and the nominee to firstname.lastname@example.org or call our Standouts hotline at (847) 608-2733.