Tomoka Takeuchi walks into a room and your eyes become riveted on her presence. The snowboarder and Sochi Olympics silver medalist exudes the kind of cheerful confidence that speaks of hard training backed by a relaxed and flexible personality.
“I’ve been training and competing overseas since the age of 15,” says Takeuchi. “Over the years I’ve learned to stay focused and not let the bad stuff get me down.”
Now 34, Takeuchi is making the shift from full-time athlete to part-time businessperson while staying connected to professional snowboarding. She is part of Black Pearl, a Swiss-born company dedicated to developing custom-made snowboards. Its production base has moved to Niigata.
“It’s difficult for snowboarders to get our feet on a really good board,” says Takeuchi. “And no one has ever made it to the podium on an Asian board yet. I’m hoping to turn that around with Black Pearl.”
Takeuchi is always up for such challenges and as she says, she likes to “keep moving and be on the go. I like to have a sense of purpose.”
A native of Asahikawa, Hokkaido, Takeuchi has always gone after what she wanted without looking back. But now she says, “In a way, I regret the choice to put snowboarding first before everything else. For example, I didn’t go to college because I was always training and competing in Europe.”
Still, Takeuchi has mastered the German language and she also speaks English.
“I learned German out of necessity — I really needed it for snowboarding! And then I learned English in order to communicate with the world. I discovered that, as with snowboarding, languages are learned through physical practice. In other words, there’s no better way than to start speaking, NOW. Many Japanese want to learn first and speak later. But English is a tool, it’s actually a great tool that takes you places and makes new friends. You just have to use it, use it and use it some more.”
Takeuchi says that if she hadn’t become a snowboarder, she probably would have gone into public speaking.
“Maybe a newscaster,” she says. “Thankfully, I was never afraid to speak in front of a lot of people.”
She certainly has a flair for getting an audience to listen, and choosing the right words that make lasting impressions.
“I love learning new phrases,” she smiles. “I call an English-speaking friend three times a week just to practice talking and to say, what’s up?”
Takeuchi’s first solo overseas trip was to the U.S., when she was 17 years old.
“I was going to a training camp in the U.S. but the plane landed at an unfamiliar airport. I waited for my luggage but it never came so I showed my luggage ticket to an officer. It turns out the plane had temporarily landed to supply fuel. By the time I rushed back to get on my flight, it had already left. It dawned on me that if I wanted to become a competitive snowboarder, I had better learn some communication skills.”
That feeling turned into a conviction when Takeuchi went to Switzerland for training some years later.
“Everyone around me had other interests besides snowboarding. The national team system encouraged its athletes to get university degrees, launch businesses, learn new skills, whatever. I myself didn’t know anything apart from snowboarding. It was a revelation. I knew then that I had to study and grow, or I would be out of this game.”
Takeuchi believes having other things going on in their lives can bring better results.
“I think one of the problems with the Japanese sports world is that they tend to shut out everything to concentrate on winning. But being a little more open-minded may bring better results.”
Takeuchi summed up: “I have my bad days like everyone else, but I always tell myself these things happen. The important thing is to go out there, give it my best — and if it doesn’t work, it’s best to move on. This mindset has helped me through some of the roughest patches in my career. Also, keep talking! When you open up and speak out, people are always willing to listen. They even correct my English, which is a bonus!” (Kaori Shoji)
Words to live by
北海道旭川出身。2002年クラーク記念国際高校在学中にソルトレイクシティ五輪に出場。2007年、スイスに拠点を移し、同国のナショナルチームとトレーニングを続ける。2014年ソチ五輪で日本人女性スノーボード選手で初のメダルとなる銀メダルを獲得。スノーボード開発会社 BLACK PEARLのメンバー。