Uemura Aiko placed 5th overall at the 2002 World Cup. Photo taken in Salt Lake City. (Photo credit: The Mainichi Shimbun)
Photo by Takahashi Noboru
The 2002 Winter Olympic Games in Salt Lake City, U.S.A. created plenty of interest, and the eyes of the Japanese people were on Uemura Aiko (22), one of Japan's mogul skiers. She came to the first Olympics of the 21st century with an impressive record7th overall in Women's Moguls at the 1998 Winter Games in Nagano, 6th overall at the 1999 World Cup, 4th at the next Cup in 2000, and 2nd in 2001. Each major competition brought her closer to the top, so it was natural for her to be seen as Japan's best hope for a medal at the Salt Lake City Olympics.
The mogul slope has many large bumps (called moguls) and two jumps. Judges want to see speed, balance, and strengthquick, aggressive turns, and high, difficult moves in the air. The run is 200 to 250 meters long, with a steep 25- to 30-degree slope. Uemura can jump as high as the men and her turn techniques are excellent, making her one of the most talented mogul skiers in the world. At the 2002 Winter Olympics, she only placed 6th, but her lively trademark smile brought her even more fans, and she gained a tremendous amount of recognition.
"I began skiing when I was 3, and Alpine skiing when I was a first grader. I was 14 when I first tried moguls. I thought, 'Hey, this is a cool sport.' I've never had a problem with being the center of attention, and I found I could identify with the show-off factor in moguls."
Uemura joined Japan's national team at 16, thanks to her innate physical ability and her talent on the slope. She was 18 when she competed in the Nagano Olympics, and her 7th place, combined with her youth and charm, instantly gave her idol status in Japan.
"Until the 1998 Olympics, I was relatively unknown and didn't realize my own potential, so I was kind of laid-back about the whole thing. But at the 2002 Games in Salt Lake City I thought I'd get a medal, and my supporters did too, and I ended up under a lot of pressure."
The result was 6th
place and no medal. "But I was happy that the crowd showed they really liked my performance by disagreeing loudly with the judges. From now on, I'm going to try to be stronger and more resilient. I hope to place first in upcoming major competitions, especially at World Cups and in the Olympics."