Yuka Sato (born February 14, 1973) is a Japanese Figure skater. Shortly after placing fifth in the 1994 Winter Olympics, she won the Gold medal at the 1994 World Figure Skating Championships. She was married to fellow figure skater Jason Dungjen.
Sato was born in Tokyo, Japan in 1973.
Sato skated in the shadow of Midori Ito, a popular figure skater and the first woman to land the triple Axel jump. Sato's first international success was winning the 1990 World Junior title. She then finished 7th at the 1992 and 8th at the subsequent World Championships. Ito retired from amateur skating following a 2nd place finish at these Olympic Games. Subsequently, Sato defeated Nancy Kerrigan and Chen Lu, reigning world medalists, at the start of the 1992-1993 season in the important Skate America competition. She also became the Japanese National Figure Skating champion in 1993. That season, she finished 4th at the World Championships in Prague after a performance that included four clean triple jumps.
Sato experienced setbacks in the fall of 1993. For example, she failed to medal at the Piruetten Olympic test event held at Hamar, Norway, the site of the upcoming games. More importantly, she made a major mistake in the technical program at the Olympics. While intending a triple lutz/double toe loop combination, she popped the first jump and earned a major deduction. Although she was one of the top competitors at the event, the mistake left her in 7th place after the initial portion of the competition. Because of this, she had little chance to medal. Regardless, she skated a strong program in the free-skating portion of the event, completing six triple jumps, four spins, and a diagonal step sequence (performed at great speed). Sato placed 4th in the free skate and her effort was enough to bring her up to 5th place overall. In retrospect, some skating observers have argued that she deserved to win the free skating part of the event.
All three of the Olympic medalists, Oksana Baiul, Nancy Kerrigan, and Chen Lu, withdrew from the following 1994 World Figure Skating Championships. Thus, the battle for the world title was wide open and Sato had a great opportunity to win a medal. Also, the World Championships were being held in Japan and Sato was a hometown favorite.
To her credit, Sato skated very well in all rounds of the competition. In the free skate, she again landed six triple jumps, had strong spins, and fast steps. She skated better than she had at the Olympics as her jumps had smoother landings. She also landed a difficult double Axel jump/step/triple salchow jump sequence. The judges awarded her the gold medal by a margin of five judges to four over France's Surya Bonaly. Bonaly, who had finished 4th at the games, had previously beaten Sato at many of the most important events. But, at this event, Bonaly did not win and felt cheated out of the gold medal. She protested the result by refusing to stand on the podium and reluctantly received her silver medal, which she promptly took off. This drew criticism from the audience.
The decision was close and Bonaly might have won had she not faltered on one of her triple jumps. When attempting the triple loop, she landed sloppily, stepping out. She also underrotated another triple jump and thus earned deductions. Sato, on the other hand, skated a cleaner performance, with better basic skating skills and non-jump elements. Thus, the deciding factor may have been the quality of Sato's elements versus the difficulty of Bonaly's jumps.
Following her win at the 1994 World Championships, Sato retired from amateur skating and became a popular performer with a long career on the pro circuit, winning many pro competitions. In addition to continuing to skate singles, she also began pair skating with her husband Jason Dungjen in 1998. Sato now skates professionally with Stars on Ice and coaches.
Both of Sato's parents are former skaters. Her father Nobuo Sato competed in the 1960 and 1964 Winter Olympics and placed 4th at the 1965 World Figure Skating Championships; while her mother Kumiko Okawa competed in the 1964 Winter Olympics and 1968 Winter Olympics, placing 8th in the latter event. They have coached many international champions, such as Shizuka Arakawa, Fumie Suguri, Miki Ando, Lucinda Ruh, and Yukari Nakano.
In addition to being taught by her parents, Sato also worked with coach Peter Dunfield in Canada.
Sato is a graduate of Hosei University in Tokyo.
Sato is credited as a stunt performer in the 2007 figure skating comedy motion picture Blades of Glory.
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