Picture by David Leonardi, 1984.
She began ice skating when she was 5 years old and was competing by age 6. Her parents divorced when she was 10 , at which time she moved to live with her coach, Mrs. Machiko Yamada (who is also, along with Mihoko Higuchi, her choreographer).
Her first wins came in 1980: winning both the All Japan Juniors and the All Japan Junior Freestyle. She amazed judges and audiences with her jumping abilities, earning nicknames like "Tsunami Girl" and "The Japanese Jumping Bean." In one practice session, she landed 10 doubles in a row!
In the 1984 Worlds Junior competition, Midori landed a double-loop, tripple-loop combination in the short program. One of the announcers for Japanese TV, Emi Watanabe remarked how the combo was one that even men do not perform (at that time).
Even those bemoaning how "jump mania" was affecting the future of skating still caught themselves being amazed at Midori's abilities. For instance, Mr. Frank Nowosad in an article for the 1984-1985 holiday issue of Tracings magazine commented that:
"In her programs she dispenses triple jumps as if they were gumdrops, depositing all of them perilously close to the barrier, and beaming an expansive white smile after each delivery."An incredible and courageous athlete, Midori dared to push the limits. In 1985, a few months after winning the first of 8 consecutive All-Japan Championship wins, she broke her right ankle attempting a quad (she previously broke the same ankle in 1982), but still went on later that year to win the NHK.
In March 1988, Midori graduated from Tokai Women's High School. Later that year, in early November 1988, she landed her first in competition at the Aichi Prefecture Championship (where she won the gold). She landed another Triple Axel one week later at the NHK Cup competitions (where she again won gold). She had pushed up the technical level for women's skating. In her free skate in the 1988 Olympics, while she did not land a Triple Axel, she did land other triple jumps, and ended up placing 5th. With great energy and dazzling personality she pushed up yet again the technical level for women's skating. Women's competitive skating would no longer be the same. Cam Cole, a journalist covering the 1988 Olympics wrote:
"The first time that I can ever recall being struck by the powerful emotion that this [figure skating] sport drives was in the press box at the 1988 Olympics when Midori Ito was skating... There were guys there I had covered hockey with, sports columnists... guys who basically were approaching this thing in a pretty skeptical manner. And I saw a whole lot of those guys up there, when she finished her performance that night, taking their glasses off and wiping their eyes with their hands. And I'm thinking to myself, 'Now you know...now you know.'"Midori typically trained 20 hours a week in the summer and 30 hours a week in the Winter, usually at the Nagoya Sports Center. After the Olympics, Midori began to work harder at increasing her artistry, as well as her athleticism, taking ballet and jazz dance classes.
At the 1989 World's competition in Paris, she became the first woman to land a Triple Axel in a major international competition (since then, Tonya Harding is the only other woman skater to land a Triple Axel in an international competition) and became the first Asian skater to win the World's despite having placed 6th in the figures, an area Midori never did well in (the ISU dropped compulsories in 1990). Of her short program performance, U.S. Team leader Harland Burge said it was "the finest athletic performance" he had ever seen by a woman skater.
In March 1990, Midori Graduated Tokai Gakuen Women's College in Nagoya (Concentrated in Human Relations, Department of Living Studies) and the following month began her sponsorship with Prince Hotel, Inc. During the next two years leading up to the 1992 Winter Olympics Midori won nine gold and two silver medals out of 12 competitions.
At the Olympics, during final practice at the Olympic rink, Surya Bonaly peformed an illegal back-flip right beside a startled Midori, disrupting her practice and possibly causing her to miss her next jump. This drew the wrath of Katarina Witt who accused Bonaly of "almost cheating." ISU officials forbaded Bonaly from doing anymore back-flips during practice. Midori and her coach decided to replace the triple Axel combination with an easier triple Lutz combination. Her coach said she had never seen Midori fall on this jump. However, during the short program, she did fall on the Lutz, placing her in fourth. In the long program she fell on her first triple Axel, landed her second (the first landed by a woman at an Olympics). She ended up winning the Silver Medal. Even though she won the Silver and the team coach, Noriko Shirota, told her she didn't have to be sorry, she publicly apologized to her country for not winning the Gold.
Midori retired from amateur skating after the 1992 Olympic's, going professional, winning or placing high in several professional competions including winning the World Professional championship in 1993 (where she became the first, and so far only, woman to successfully perform a Triple Axel in a professional competition). In the , one of the commentators remarked, as Midori prepared to start her first program that Midori was "if you will, the Michael Jordan of ladies figure skating, sometimes she seems to just hang suspended in the air." During the program, she landed one of her best triple-axels, jumping high into the air as if she had heard Mr. Costas' comments just a minute before. Peggy Flemming remarked that it was one of the "finest ever, ever done."
In June of 1995, Midori was re-instated as an amateur but a little over a year later, on 29 Nov 1996, Midori announced her retirement from eligible skating. Due to health problems stemming from hypproteinemia (low protein levels in the blood), she no longer felt her body was up to the physical rigors and the tension of amateur competition. See the Midori Ito Stats page for a full listing of Midori's competitive (both amateur and professional) record.
During the 1998 Winter Olympics Midori had the honor of being the first in the Torch relay when the Torch arrived in Japan. Some think that it was Midori that gave the edge to Nagano over Salt Lake -- which lost the bid to Nagano by just four votes. Midori even had the great honor of being the one to light the Olympic Cauldron in the opening ceremonies. She also was a commentator on the games for Japanese television.
Midori still skates in Prince Ice World shows for the Prince Hotels F.S.C., her long-time sponsor. She is also coaching a Japanese national figure skating team, doing TV commercials and guest television commentary for Japanese amateur skating competitions, and has started a women's labor union.
On January 4, 2001 Midori returned to professional competition, performing in the Japan Open held at the National Yoyogi stadium in Tokyo. In her interpretative skate she put in the Triple Axel, stepping out of the landing but still scoring high enough to win the bronze. "I thought it would be great," Midori said after the competition, "to compete for the first time in Japan after my long time away." She then commented on her performance: "Compared to practice, my result was about 40 per cent." I think most people would agree that placing 3rd in her first competition after a four year absence is still a remarkable achievement.
For the 2002 Winter Olympics, Midori worked as a commentator on the games for Japanese television.
On 25 March 2004, Midori Ito was inducted into the "Hall of Fame" of World Figure Skating. Toller Cranston and Jutta Mueller were also inducted. The induction ceremony took place after the Compulsary Dance at the World Figure Skating Championships in Dortmund, Germany. Midori Ito was not able to attend the ceremonies.