TOPArt & CultureSports & FitnessMeet the Beijing 2022 Athletes: Snowboarder Miyabi Onitsuka

Meet the Beijing 2022 Athletes: Snowboarder Miyabi Onitsuka

The 23-year-old is tipped to challenge for medals in two events at the Winter Olympics in China

By Matthew Hernon

Competing in slopestyle and big air, Miyabi Onitsuka is seen as one of Japan’s best medal prospects at the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing. The youngest-ever snowboard world champion in 2015, she was also tipped to challenge for gold at the 2018 PyeongChang Olympics, but finished a disappointing 19th in slopestyle and eighth in big air. This time around, she’s determined to perform to her potential.

“Four years ago was so disappointing,” recalls Onitsuka. “Immediately after, I started thinking about what was missing from my performance. I changed my training method and got new gear. It was a risk switching from a brand I’d come accustomed to over the years, but felt it was something I needed to do moving forward.

“I was nervous making that change initially, but it didn’t take long before I got used to it,” she adds. “I’ve grown in confidence since and developed new skills. Last year, I became the first female snowboarder to successfully perform the double cork 1260 in a tournament. I was very pleased with that.”

A Prodigious Talent

Onitsuka’s snowboarding journey began when she was just five. After trying an indoor slope with her parents in Fukuoka city, she joined a kids’ camp at Hoshino Resorts Alts Bandai Snow Park & Resort in Fukushima Prefecture. Her talent was obvious from the beginning and only a year after taking up the discipline, she was already winning national competitions. Sponsors soon started showing an interest and at the age of seven she was signed by Burton.

“When I started snowboarding, I wasn’t thinking about results,” she says. “I was just enjoying the fact that I was nearly able to snowboard and that I could see my friends again at Alts. I often lost track of time and would finish each session thinking I would do better the next day.”  

Continuing to progress, Onitsuka was told she could have won a gold medal at the 2014 Sochi Olympics. However, just 14 at the time, she was a year shy of the minimum age required to compete in a snowboarding event at the Games. 11 months later, the Kumamoto Prefecture-native took home the slopestyle world title in Austria, finishing three points ahead of home favorite Anna Gasser.

Miyabi Park

To continue challenging elite snowboarders, Onitsuka knew how important it was to train at a location with world-class facilities. In 2017, she formed an affiliation contract with Hoshino Resorts to make a custom-made snow park at Alts Bandai. Known as Miyabi Park, it features a world-class ramp that gives her the opportunity to try new techniques she couldn’t previously attempt.

“I think it’s a facility unique to Japan,” she continues. “I mean that, not only in terms of the technology, but also the support system surrounding it. Even if I go abroad, the things I need aren’t always arranged. I’m happy to have a fully equipped environment where the items can change depending on the season.”

Gunning for Gold

The 2018 Olympics aside, Onitsuka has produced impressive results since Miyabi Park was built. One of her most memorable triumphs came in Aspen in 2020. Competing in her first-ever X Games, the Japanese boarder took home gold in the big air event, finishing ahead of compatriots Kokomo Murase and Reira Iwabuchi. The next goal is to top the podium in Beijing.

“Of course, my aim is to win gold in both the slopestyle and big air competitions,” she says. “However, I think my best chance is in big air since it’s not affected by the environment. There are many things you can’t know about slopestyle because it depends on several factors, including the weather. It’s a test of overall gliding ability, so I’ll prepare to handle it no matter what happens.”

Photo Credit: Hoshino Resorts