"I really feel the best I ever have," said Ina, a long-time Guttenberg resident whose parents, Tsuneo and Yoshiko, still reside in the Galaxy apartments on Boulevard East. "I'm in better shape than ever before. I'm much happier than I've ever been. We're skating very well, so that helps. Nothing else matters right now, because I am so happy."
However, it also helps that Ina and her pairs skating partner, John Zimmerman, won their third consecutive U.S. Figure Skating Championship last weekend at the Staples Center in Los Angeles.
Ina and Zimmerman recovered from a rough performance in the short program last Thursday to put on a flawless outing in the long program a day later to capture the national championship.
With the victory, Ina and Zimmerman have qualified for the Winter Olympics in Salt Lake City Feb. 9 and will be the United States' shining hope for a medal at the games.
It will mark the third Olympic Games appearance for the 29-year-old Ina, who finished ninth at the 1994 Winter Olympics in Lillehammer and was fourth at the 1998 Games in Nagano, both with former skating partner Jason Dungjen.
In all, the national championship was the fifth of Ina's career - three straight with Zimmerman and two with Dungjen.
"When you look at it all, it's pretty amazing," Ina said in a phone interview from her home in Connecticut last Tuesday.
Because Ina and Zimmerman had enjoyed such a brilliant figure skating season, they entered the national championships with an air of confidence.
"We really had no pressure going in," Ina said. "We had such an incredible season that confidence-wise, we were at the top of our game. But we didn't want to peak at the nationals, so we just tried to do our best and see what happened."
What happened on Thursday was a disastrous short program, filled with miscues and missed jumps. However, all of the competing pairs teams suffered through a tough short program and also made several mistakes. One figure skating expert called it "the most disastrous night in U.S. figure skating history."
"Accidents do happen," Ina said. "We worked really hard to get ready, but John missed a few jumps. I'm just glad that we were able to get it out of our system. We really tried to give it our best effort right away, but the short program is so tough, getting used to the ice. Even the simple stops become difficult."
Added Ina, "But we weren't concentrating on results. We were concentrating on ourselves more than anything." However, incredibly, after the troublesome short program, Ina and Zimmerman were still in first place.
"It did give us confidence to finish the long program, which we did very well," Ina said. "Overall, it was our worst performance of the year, but we had a different attitude, with so much less pressure, not worrying so much about winning. But being in first certainly helps."
Training for the Olympics
On Monday, Ina and Zimmerman will head to the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado Springs, where they will work out to prepare for the Olympics. They will bypass next weekend's Tournament of the Americas competition in Seoul, South Korea to train for the Olympics in Utah in February instead.
"We want to train in higher altitude and skate on an Olympic-size ice," Ina said. "We've competed [in Salt Lake City] before, so we know what to expect. The elevation in Colorado is much higher, so if we can handle Colorado, then we should be fine in Utah."
While Zimmerman will be competing in his first Olympic Games, Ina will be the experienced veteran. "Once we get challenged, things will change," Ina said. "Every trip I've taken to the Olympics has been totally different. But this one will be different for a lot of reasons. It's John's first time. It's in the United States. We have a different feeling of patriotism in the country now. There will be a different interest. We've had a great season in preparing for the Olympics and go in not only as the top U.S. contender, but a contender for a medal as well."
Added Ina, "I think we have to focus on ourselves and not worry about all the other outside distractions."
There are some skating experts who believe that the key to Ina and Zimmerman's success has been their camaraderie and closeness that they display on the ice. One writer asked Ina if she was linked romantically to Zimmerman.
"It is a very strong compliment and I actually enjoy it," Ina said. "John and I are so secure in our personal lives and so secure with our respective partners that we don't care what people think. We just skate as one and we get along as one. A woman writer said to me, 'You two look like you're so much in love.' And I said, 'Thank you.' It really is the ultimate compliment, because we want to skate as one. But we're both mature enough to handle it and we don't take it the wrong way."
Ina said that she doesn't want to think too much about the Olympics - for fear she may suffer from anticipation anxiety.
"I don't want to think about what might happen," Ina said. "I've worked hard over the last 10 years to get to this point, with a lot of ups and downs. But I wouldn't change anything. It's all been very rewarding and fulfilling. I still love skating and I'm enjoying myself so much now that it honestly doesn't matter if we win a medal or not. But winning a medal would be the icing on the cake, to say we won a medal at the Olympics. But I'm really not saying that."
Ina also knows that this is her last chance to capture an Olympic medal.
"I can't see myself working toward 2006," Ina said. "Skating will always be a part of my life. I don't know what the future holds, but I'd like to be involved in skating. I also want to get into broadcasting, maybe becoming the next Katie Couric, but I don't know about those 4 a.m. wakeup calls. But it's definitely something I want to pursue."
More than likely, Ina and Zimmerman will turn professional soon after the Olympics, win or lose.
Ina said that she will never forget where she was on Sept. 11, looking out of the windows of her parents' apartment in Guttenberg, getting a vivid view of the tragedy.
"That image will never go away," Ina said. "It's something that I will never forget, nor will anyone. Sometimes, I wish it were a bad dream, that I could wake up and see New York the way it was. I saw the whole tragedy so clearly from where I was. Everyone was hit so very hard by that day."
Added Ina, "That's why I think this Olympic games will be really different, because the focus is going to be on the United States and we're representing the United States. In that respect, it really is an honor. I just hope we're able to give a good representation of the country."
Kyoko Ina has done more than that.
She has a special request for the local readers, for her many friends from Hudson County.
"There is a program that is helping the families of Olympic athletes," Ina said. "Because the cost is so high to send the parents of the athletes to Salt Lake City, there's a program that if you buy an Olympic T-shirt, $5 of the proceeds go to sending the parents to the Olympics."
The website is www.friendsforathletes.com, and you can designate which athlete you would like to support. So you can go to the site, you can purchase a T-shirt and determine that you want the $5 sent to support the family of Kyoko Ina.
"It's a nice little gesture to help the Olympic families," Ina said. "My parents are still Guttenberg residents and proud to be from Hudson County."