16-year-old figure skater, Olympic hopeful trains in Vernon Hills

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VERNON HILLS – Tomoki Hiwatashi was just 5-years-old the first time he laced up a pair of skates and hit the ice.

"I just feel like this is the only thing I can [do and] feel myself be alive," he said. "When I can land jumps, it makes me feel good and excited to be doing it."

Now 16, the Hoffman Estates resident earned the title of Junior National Champion at the Prudential U.S. Figure Skating Championship last month. Next, he heads to the World Junior Figure Skating Championships from March 14-20 in Hungary.

In order to secure his most recent title, Hiwatashi worked on his triple axel jump for the better part of a year.

"I had to get that triple axel to win," he said.

Hiwatashi skates six times each week, for 3-4 hours at a time. He also completes off-ice training three times a week for an hour. The skating champ trains at Glacier Ice Arena in Vernon Hills and Center Ice of DuPage in Glen Ellyn.

"I just feel like I need to keep going and I want to make it to the Olympics once, or twice maybe," Hiwatashi said.

Luckily for this Olympic hopeful, he currently trains with Alex Ouriashev, who once trained Olympic figure skater Gracie Gold.

"It's really fun and at the same time, it's hard because he's a really tough trainer," Hiwatashi said.

Ouriashev has coached Hiwatashi for about two years and said he has seen "phenomenal progress" in the skater. Not only is he competing at the top of the junior level, but he is well on his way to competing at the senior level.

Ouriashev noted Hiwatashi can do the same jumps as Olympic-level skaters.

"He's a young skater," Ouriashev said. "I'm proud of him very, very much. Now, he needs to get his jumps more consistent and skate more mature. He's very strong mentally."

Ouriashev said something great about Hiwatashi is that he knows his strengths and he knows his weakness, and Hiwatashi works hard on his weaknesses.

"He knows to be successful, he needs to work hard, hard, hard on this stuff," Ouriashev said.

Hiwatashi has some big goals he is working toward for this upcoming competition.

"My goal would probably be to get the highest score possible and get on the podium this year," Hiwatashi said.

He is also hopeful he can include two triple axels in his long program and one triple axel in his short program. Hiwatashi also wants to try some quad jumps while practicing in Hungary.

Ouriashev said that a coach never knows exactly what will happen with one of their athletes, but he is hopeful for Hiwatashi's future.

"If everything is great… I look very optimistically into his future," Ouriashev said.

In the next year, Hiwatashi hopes to compete at the senior level and in the long-term, he hopes to see upcoming Olympic competition. He said if he is good enough, he could shoot for the 2018 or 2022 Olympics.