Two years ago, speed skater Riki Hayashi was a complete unknown, unable to generate enough speed to break through on the national level. At 16, he is now a high school champion, beating older competitors along the way during the recent national high school winter games.
Hayashi made headlines by winning the men’s 10,000 meters on Jan. 24 at the winter games in his first attempt at that distance at a major competition. The result even surprised Hayashi, who has captured the high school title less then a year after he switched to long-distance events.
“I’m just wondering if it’s OK that everything is going so well like this,” Hayashi said of his remarkable progress in the past year.
The result was convincing, however. The first-year student from Saku Chosei High School in Nagano Prefecture clocked 14 minutes 38.23 seconds, rewriting the rink record by more than 11 seconds.
At the competition, those with the best career times coming in are the last to take the ice. As Hayashi had no official time for the 10,000 meters going into the competition, he had to skate in Group 3 of 19. Still, he felt quite confident.
“I was aiming for the title, as well as a good time,” Hayashi said.
The early start worked to his advantage. The race started shortly after 9 a.m., when the temperature stood at just 2 C at the outdoor rink. Hayashi benefited from favorable conditions because the ice was firm. He steadily clocked less than 36 seconds per lap up until the second to last.
“I still had plenty of energy left,” Hayashi recalled, saying he opened things up in the last time around, skating the 25th and last lap in 32.91 seconds and finishing 4.28 seconds faster than the runner-up.
After winning the title in his first year of his high school, Hayashi now has a new ambition.
“I’m looking forward to pulling off a three-peat,” he said.
Hitting the national stage
Hayashi started skating as a third-year primary school student, and initially focused on short distances until his second year at middle school. However, the young Hayashi didn’t reach the national level, and instead felt frustrated about himself when he saw younger skaters at his school competing in nationwide competitions.
The turning point for Hayashi came during his final year at middle school. He was caught off guard when his coach told him, “You’re going to win a national title this year.”
An inspired Hayashi started to try long-distance events, and the switch helped him start realizing his potential. He made rapid progress, improving his times as he quickly absorbed long-distance skating techniques from his coach.
Hayashi did accomplish the feat his coach projected: He won two races — the 1,500 and the 3,000 — at the All-Japan middle school championships in February last year.
Hayashi has improved his skills further by stretching out to the 5,000 and 10,000 after enrolling at local skating powerhouse Saku Chosei High School.
Makoto Kurosawa, the speed skating coach there, said he was convinced that Hayashi was “a natural long-distance skater” when his student took part in a training camp for the national junior team last spring.
The skaters there underwent analysis of their muscular development, the results of which showed Hayashi’s lactate acid buildup and other data were “close to those of top-class long-distance skaters at the senior level,” according to Kurosawa.
The coach was even more convinced when he found Hayashi could bike 240 kilometers each day during the summer training sessions and ice skated 30 kilometers per day in the winter.
Now Kurosawa urges his student to look beyond the national level.
“I want to have his level high enough to compete at the world championships by the time he graduates,” the coach said. “He has the enough potential to do so.”
Hayashi has bought in on that thinking.