by Anne Calder | Photos from Team KoKo | Illustration by @Okarataitan

Misato Komatsubara & Tim Koleto became ice dancing partners in 2016. The duo represents Japan and trains in Milan, Italy with Barbara Fusar-Poli and Stefano Caruso.

While fairly new as an ice dance couple, their individual resumes stretch back several years.

Komatsubara competed for Japan in ice dance 2009-2013. She spent a year of solo training in her home city of Okayama before moving to Italy in 2014 to partner with Andrea Fabbri under the watchful eyes of Coach Barbara Fusar Poli. The partnership ended in April 2016.

Koleto trained as a singles skater with Tom Zakrajsek in Colorado Springs, USA until early 2013 when a series of injuries forced him to have surgery or quit jumping. He turned to ice dance and moved to Michigan to train with Igor Shpilband. For one year he partnered with Yura Min to represent Korea. After the team split, he skated with Thea Rabe of Norway for the 2015-16 season. The partnership ended in January 2016.

Post Boston Worlds, Komatsubara and Koleto were both at the crossroads of their skating lives.

Illustration by @Okarataitan

“I was not able to continue moving forward. I was going to finish my career at that moment. I lost my way,” Komatsubara explained. “My coaches and my family helped give me strength and hope and love for skating. Little by little and day by day by having basic training, my love for skating began to change and grow again.”

Koleto had similar thoughts. “I’d actually reached a point in my career where I was feeling demotivated and confused about my future. I knew I still wanted to skate, but after two partnerships that didn’t go as I’d hoped, I started to think maybe it just wasn’t going to happen.”

For several years Fusar Poli had taken her skaters to Michigan to train with Shpilband, so Koleto knew her coaching staff and teams. The week after Worlds, he headed to Milan for a tryout with Komatsubara.

“When I arrived in Italy my bags got lost. The first two days of the tryout were done only on the floor, wearing Stefano Caruso’s extra skating pants,” Koleto disclosed.  “On the third day of the tryout when we stepped on the ice together for the first time, it felt just as natural as we’d both expected. Two days later, halfway through the 10-day tryout, we decided to skate together, and I moved permanently to Milan three weeks later.”

Komatsubara agreed. “When we finally started to skate together, I understood quickly that we will be a team. The way how we skate, the way how we stretch our arms and legs, I was surprised. I’ll never forget that emotion.”

Now in their second season together, Komatsubara & Koleto want to show they are a contender for the future as a Japanese couple at the international competitions.

“We are still a new team, so we are focusing on making our basic skating skills stronger and to polish our connection,” Komatsubara said.

The team has had to face the additional challenge of rotating in different directions. Komatsubara moves counter-clockwise; Koleto is a natural clockwise rotator. Even small adjustments take extra time to master.

“Our season will begin here in Italy with Lombardia Trophy,” Koleto said.  “It will be special to have that moment together in our home away from home.”

Their long-term goals are set on eventually qualifying for the 2022 Olympic Games.

“We’d love to one day medal at Four Continents as well, a feat never achieved by an [ice dance] couple outside North America,” Koleto explained.

When they chose their 2017-18 programs, they felt that as a new team it was extremely important to feature varying themes to show the breadth of their comfort zone.

“For the SD, we fell in love with “Ahora Quien” by Marc Anthony, which had both a Salsa and Rhumba (pop) version,” Koleto said.  “Samba do Brasil” (Radio Remix) by Bellini was a placeholder for the second piece for a long time, but we never came across another Samba with the same energy or melodic intricacy. I’m so happy we gave it a chance.”

“In the SD, I want to show a strong character,” Komatsubara added. “The key focus is to be sensual, powerful, and an adult couple. We want to explain our music well with our movements.”

The FD opens and closes with two Barbra Streisand vocals from the Yentl soundtrack – “Where is it Written?” and “A Piece of the Sky”.  Sandwiched between to create a change of pace is John Williams’ instrumental End Credits from the 1954 remake of the film Sabrina.

In the finale, rather than asking, “Papa, Can You Hear Me?”, Streisand offers closing statements: “Papa, I can hear you. Papa, I can see you. Papa, I can feel you. Papa, watch me fly.”

Koleto explains that the positive assertions represent where they are in their careers – no longer searching, no longer wishing, and no longer waiting.

“The conceptual dichotomy of searching and finding is what we want to showcase this season. We are here, and we are ready to show we have something special to share,” he points out.

Barbara Fusar Poli and Igor Shpilband have had the most influence on the development of Komatsubara and Koleto as ice dancers.

“Barbara has helped me grow and taught me how to express myself on the ice and to be a better person off the ice,” Komatsubara shared.  “I feel that I found my style how I skate, and I love it more every day. I appreciate Barbara and Stefano [Caruso] to share with me this passion and love for skating.”

“Transitioning to Dance, I felt eccentric and misunderstood in the skating world,” Koleto said. “I thought my skill set was ill fitted for Dance. Barbara helped me understand that my uniqueness is a gift, and she’s always allowed me to be myself, and encouraged me to be an integral part of the creative process of our work.”

“On the other hand,” Koleto added, “Igor is my whole foundation in dance. From leading my partner, to expression, to composition of a program, I owe the entirety of my understanding of ice dance to him.”

“We separated at a time I didn’t think I was strong enough to survive, but he gave me a gentle push out of the nest that allowed me to soar, and for that I’m forever grateful,” Koleto concluded.

While he has worked with some of the greatest names in the sport, he would love to have the opportunity to learn from one legendary team.

“Through all my years skating, I’ve never once crossed paths with Tessa [Virtue] and Scott [Moir]. Their connection on the ice is legendary. They are the total package and unstoppable. They can skate to any and every music. Their Prince SD from last season is the textbook definition of what a SD should be.”

The skating journey that began in April 2016 has turned into a life long commitment for Misato & Tim. In January 2017, they eloped to Okayama, Japan and became Mr. & Mrs. KoKo.

They shared some thoughts about their love and what is so special about their partners.

“As a person, Tim is really kind,” Misato gushed.  “I love that he loves people. He tries to understand the other people around him.”

Tim added, “Misato has taught me to love more, judge less, and trust the best in people.