Hoffman Estates teen takes gold in junior men's at skating championships

  • Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates performs in the free skate Wednesday, where he won gold in the junior men's division.

    Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates performs in the free skate Wednesday, where he won gold in the junior men's division. Courtesy of U.S. Figure Skating Association

  • Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates performs a double axel while training last week at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn in preparation for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, where he won gold in the junior men's division.

      Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates performs a double axel while training last week at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn in preparation for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, where he won gold in the junior men's division. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates trains last week at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn in preparation for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, where he won gold in the junior men's division.

      Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates trains last week at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn in preparation for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, where he won gold in the junior men's division. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

  • Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates trains last week at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn in preparation for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, where he won gold in the junior men's division.

      Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, of Hoffman Estates trains last week at Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn in preparation for the U.S. Figure Skating Championship, where he won gold in the junior men's division. Bev Horne | Staff Photographer

 
By Eileen O. Daday
Daily Herald correspondent
Updated 1/22/2016 11:10 AM

A Hoffman Estates teen who hoped to medal at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships in St. Paul, Minnesota, did just that on Wednesday night, when he found himself at the top of the podium.

Tomoki Hiwatashi, 16, won the gold medal in the junior men's division after he completed eight triple jumps in his free skate program, which was designed around a Charlie Chaplin routine.

 

"It was pretty good. I almost did a clean program," Tomoki said by phone Thursday from the Excel Energy Center. "I was exhausted by the end of it but I pulled it off."

During the free skate, Tomoki compiled a personal best score of 136.50 and was only skater in the field to earn more than 200 points (202.73) in his combined total score.

"I'm so happy for him," said his coach, Alex Ouriashev, who previously coached the 2014 national women's champion, Gracie Gold.

"He got two big presents on his sweet 16th birthday," Ouriashev added. "He landed a triple axel for the first time in competition and he won a national championship. It's a memory for a lifetime."

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This was the fourth U.S. title for Tomoki, who previously won the juvenile level in 2011, intermediate in 2012 and novice in 2013.

It hasn't all been smooth sailing, however. The young skater broke his ankle in 2013 and missed much of the 2014 competitive season. His performance at Midwesterns in November, where he finished first, and his junior national title announced he is back.

Going into nationals, Tomoki worked on landing his triple axel -- the most difficult jump short of a quad -- over and over. During warm-ups for his short program Tuesday night he landed it, but when he tried it during his routine set to James Brown's iconic "I Feel Good," he opened up too soon and fell.

"I messed up," Tomoki said simply, "but I kept going. They gave me points just for trying it."

His long program Wednesday night, which also featured a triple flip-triple toe combination, led to a standing ovation from the crowd, which was his first, he said.

"The audience reacted much more to my long program," Tomoki said. "I was surprised."

Tomoki has been skating since the age of 5, when his parents took him to the Triphahn Community Center ice arena in Hoffman Estates when it opened in 2000.

                                                                                                                                                                                                                       
 

Competing in the sport has become so important that the sophomore now is home-schooled after attending Carl Sandburg Junior High School in Rolling Meadows, with an adjusted schedule.

The victory means Tomoki will be among the featured skaters in the closing event at nationals, the Smucker's Skating Spectacular exhibition, which will be televised at 7 p.m. Sunday on NBC.

"Just skating alongside of the senior men is exciting," Tomoki said.

Ouriashev said he now hopes his young protégé will be selected to compete at the junior world competition, set to open March 14 in Debrecen, Hungary. Next fall, Tomoki will move up to the senior division, Ouriashev said.

While the past is no guarantee of the future, junior national champions have included Evan Lysacek, Brian Boitano, Scott Hamilton and Dick Button.

"Mentally, it's a big adjustment," Ouriashev said of the shift to the senior division. "It's not for boys. It's men, so it's very powerful and mature skating. It's the same jumps, but it's the quality of skating that matters."

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