Keita Watanabe - The importance of being heard ~ Passion/Patin/Vitesse - Passion/Speed/Skating


1 juin 2018

Keita Watanabe - The importance of being heard

By Carl Savard
Photo by Schaats Foto's and Carl Savard

The joy I find in meeting people for interviews isn’t just based on the desire to offer you, our readers, a closer look at the lives of athletes you cherish or want to know more about. It is also based on my love for communication. I like meeting new people, with different backgrounds and different upbringing. Every interview I make for the website has one small thread holding it together, a passion for speed skating, but other than that an interview is two human beings communicating. Two more connections in the big scheme of things. It didn’t take long for me to realise how important communication has been for Japanese skater Keita Watanabe’s career.

The connection is established
I was not nervous to meet Keita Watanabe, even though I had no idea how the interview would go.  I speak english quite fluently but my main language is french. As for Watanabe, he does understand english and speaks it a little bit but in the context of an interview, he didn’t feel like it could work. So it’s with the help of a Japanese interpreter that a French Canadian interviewer and a Japanese skater were able to understand each other in english. “I was around nine years old when I started short track skating. I liked it right away, but it was just for fun at the beginning.” It’s his sister who suggested that he should give it a try, even though for her skating was just a winter hobby. Watanabe didn’t grow up in a really active family.  It is with a big smile and a burst of laughter that the 26 years old athlete told me: “My mother hates sports! She would come to the competition when I was a junior, but not anymore. She’s too nervous!” It’s around 12 years old that skating became more serious for him. That year, in his school yearbook, he wrote “I want to go to the olympics.” The anecdote reminded me of Canada’s Jamie Macdonald who did something similar at around the same age.

Watanabe’s love for short track can be resumed in a few words: high speed and passing tactics. Even though he did try long track, he was discouraged by the fact that his closest possible training site in long track was an outside oval, so he kept his focus on short track. When we met, his international experience had brought him silver and bronze medals in the relay event at the World junior championships and a bronze medal at the beginning of last season at the World cup in Budapest. This year, Keita Watanabe represented his country for the first time at the Olympics and when he got on the ice for his first training there, he was a bit nervous. It was really special for him to be there and it took him a few laps to calm down. He was hoping for better results at the Games but, after a few days, he was able to revisit his performances and learn from his mistakes to make sure the Olympics would have a positive impact on him.

Reaching high-speed connection
When I started asking him questions about his coach of the last few years, Jonathan Guilmette, it became evident that the Canadian coach had an enormous impact on the athlete. To most of my questions until that moment, Watanabe would give me pretty short answers, but when I asked him how he felt about Guilmette, it was like I had open the floodgates of a dam. He didn’t try to answer me in english. He wanted to be sure that his answer was clear as he went on and on talking to the interpreter. “When Jonathan came to Japan, it changed a lot of things. I used to follow what my coach was telling me but I never took decision by myself, never felt I could fully express myself. With Jonathan, he is always communicating, asking how you feel and he wants you to think for yourself. If you have a question, he will always do his best to help you and we will find the answer together. I feel like I’ve improved a lot with him. I’m very thankful.”

It’s how our meeting ended. Our trio separated after about 20 minutes that felt like 5. For twenty minutes we were three human beings who truly wanted to communicate and didn’t see the fact that we were from totally different parts of the world and speaking two totally different languages as a barrier.  A few days after we met, Keita Watanabe and his teammates climbed on the podium of the World championships, winning the bronze medal on the 5000m relay event. Almost at the same time, Jonathan Guilmette announced that he was coming back to Canada, leaving behind a group of Japanese athletes feeling more confident, especially Keita Watanabe.

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