by Matteo Morelli | Skating Photos by Robin Ritoss

Yuka Orihara and Juho Pirinen are a new team that has been skating together for four years representing Finland. We met with them at Grand Prix of Espoo, where they told us how they found each other, their impressions on their first senior grand prix events, and how they want to maximise from their hard work and passion to reach their goals.

Yuka and Juho, it is a pleasure to meet you both and get to know you. Let’s start from the beginning, how old were you when you first put skates on?

Yuka Orihara (YO): I was six when I started skating.

Juho Pirinen (JP): We both used to be single skaters, but we don’t miss that at all! I was eight when I started, I went to a skating school for one year and then I did synchro for another year because my single skating coach told me I was too old for single skating. So I am only missing pair skating! 

How do you feel your singles skating experience helped you in your transition to ice dance? 

YO: I started ice dancing when I was sixteen, so it took me time to get into this. Single skating definitely helped with our skating skills: for example, ice dancers that come from single skating are better at twizzles. 

JP: Yes, we are very good at doing twizzles, they are quite natural for us and we never struggle with this element. There are plenty of other things that are much harder, that make me wish I started ice dance much earlier. I was twenty when I switched to ice dance, I feel like I still cannot do some elements well because the technique is so detailed and it takes many years to learn it. 

You had a bit of ice dance experience before entering in your partnership? 

YO: yes, I skated with a Japanese and a Canadian partner before, and then moved to Finland. 

How did you find each other?

YO: Our coaches knew each other. My coaches were Aaron Lowe and Megan Wing. They are friends with Maurizio (Margaglio, their current coach), who got in touch with them. 

JP: At the time I was still skating with my ex-partner, a Finnish girl, and then we quit our partnership. Maurizio knows pretty much everybody in the skating world, so he asked different coaches and Aaron texted that they had this Japanese girl that was free. I then texted Yuka and sent her an email suggesting to do a try out, although I knew that Finland was quite far for her.

YO: For me, it was not a problem that Juho was in Finland, the question I asked myself was if I should keep the skating going.

So it seems that when you considered joining forces in 2019 you were not 100% sure about it, but how did you feel once you started to skate together?

JP: I remember the try out felt very natural and easy. It all happened very quickly: after the try out, Yuka went back to Canada for a couple of weeks and then moved to Finland. There wasn’t a long process of preparation, everything just happened.

The Covid-19 pandemic hit in 2020. How do you feel that the situation then interfered with your development as a partnership? 

JP: It was a hard time for everyone and it was not easy, but we went through it and we kept working pretty well. We have been improving a lot since we started.

And this season you are participating in your first senior Grand Prix events, NHK Trophy in Japan and GP of Espoo in Finland.

JP: Actually, we got invited to the Grand Prix of France in 2020, but it got cancelled, so Japan this year was our first one.

How would you describe your experience at NHK Trophy? What lessons did you take away from it? 

YO: Everything was so overwhelming for me, because it was in my home country. It is different to go back to Japan for vacation and to go back as a competitor. I learned how to manage the practice, everybody wants to show themselves to the judges and so it was hard to find our spot or our timing to do the elements. That was definitely different from the challenges series or other competitions we have been to. 

JP: Overall, it was the best competition I have done so far. We had a full house in the free dance, with 10,000 people there watching. The crowds were super supportive to us, because we are a half Japanese couple even though we skate for Finland, we felt the responsibility that we also have to skate well in front of the Japanese audience. I think we managed it really well and after the free dance we got a standing ovation! 

With two back-to-back Grand Prix events, did you manage to have any training between them?

JP: We got stuck in Japan! We were supposed to fly back to Finland on the Monday, but there was an airline strike and our flight got cancelled, so we had to stay there one extra day. 

YO: The Japanese federation organised the ice immediately, and we were able to skate at the NHK venue on Monday, after they took down all the things. 

JP: It was so funny, because at the competition everything was so beautiful, but the next morning you couldn’t recognise the ice rink anymore, it looked so different! Maurizio was joking that it was the same ice rink, just without the makeup.

Your second Grand Prix is in Espoo, Finland. How does it feel to skate in front of your local audiences and feel their support?

JP: It feels amazing. We have done three Finlandia trophies already at this venue and we always love to skate here.

YO: Yes, skating in Espoo is somehow relaxing for us.

Talking about this year’s free programme, how did you come up with your idea and developed it?

YO: We wanted to do something totally different before Juho found our music. We were thinking about something funkier, more up-tempo.

JP: We had this idea to do something more mysterious, and then I found this music (My Jolly Sailor Bold by Ashley Serena, and We’re Sinking by E. Shepherd Stevenson & Christopher Lord) which was quite interesting. We wanted to do this programme from last season, but I had a knee problem and I couldn’t skate for a couple of months, so we decided to keep our old programme because there was no time to prepare. With this new programme, we knew since the beginning what we wanted to do, it was really clear for both of us which elements we wanted to put in which order.

Yuka, is your dress in the rhythm dance the one Anna Cappellini wore a few years ago?

YO: Yes! We knew it was going to be Latin since February last year, and I wanted to wear this costume, I love it! 

You are coached by Maurizio Margaglio and Neil Brown. What is your working relationship with them?

JP: When we started to skate together, we went to Lyon to do our very first free dance with Neil, where he was working. And then a year and a half ago, he moved to Finland to be part of our coaching team. 

YO: He is a great add to the team, he has a very creative personality. He made the rhythm dance for us this year.

JP: Maurizio has been my coach since I started to ice dance, he taught me everything I can do now. We both feel very grateful to him. He is a great coach, especially on the technical side, teaching us the basics of skating and preciseness. He is also good in explaining how to deliver emotions.

What are your goals for this season? 

JP: This year we want to show who we are, we want everybody to recognise us, including the judges. We also want to create our own style, and I think we are doing very well so far. The feedback that we have been receiving has been pretty positive. Like Maurizio said, very often we are the audience favourite, so I think we have to grow in that direction. 

YO: The atmosphere the audience creates with us also contributes to the points. We want to work on that.

You enjoy skating for your audiences. Is there anything you would like to say to your fans?

YO: Thank you to all the fans who are supporting us. It is very nice to receive all the messages, we read everything and this gives us extra motivation to keep working!