Ladies Showdown and Shock Highlights Japanese Nationals
Shoma Uno and Satoko Miyahara defend their singles titles ahead of one expected and on unexpected silver medalist; Suzuki & Kihara and Muramoto & Reed win smaller pairs and ice dance competitions.
The first of the bigger countries to decide their entire Olympic team is typically Japan, because they have their Nationals over Christmas weekend, and almost always determine everything then. This year was no exception, as all the Japanese skaters wanting to compete at either the Olympics or any of the ISU Championships skated for it in Tokyo. All of them, that is, except Yuzuru Hanyu, who was out with injury, but high-ranked enough for a bye even by Japan’s demanding standards. That made the ladies by far the most compelling competition, since the men’s field was left a big less deep, and Japan’s never been the strongest nation for couples.
When it came down to it, with Yuzuru Hanyu out, there was no one here who could touch Shoma Uno unless he completely fell apart. That he did not do, but he struggled with most of his combinations. In the short program, he managed both solo quadruple flip and the quadruple toe loop for his combination, but singled out the jump following the latter. The first half of his free was great once he held onto his opening quad loop. But after falling on an underrrotated quad flip, he barely held a quad toe loop to lose that intended combination, attempted what might have been a crazy double axel-quad toe combination instead, was lucky he rotated a double-double, and landed the triple axel part of his three-jump only to fail on single loop and flip both. Nonetheless, he still dominated on technical content alone for his second straight title.
There was a bit more uncertainty who would join him and Hanyu at the Olympics, but that berth was always Keiji Tanaka’s to lose. Once he made no major mistakes, it and silver were his. He fully delivered in the short program once he landed the quad salchow, his hardest quad. He perhaps made it a little easier for Uno to win when he had a handful of stumbles in the free skate, including on his intended quad salchow combination, though he landed both quad salchow and toe solo.
After a disastrous autumn, Takahito Mura redeemed himself somewhat with the bronze medal. He made no major mistakes in the short program either, though his solo quad toe and jump combination were on the bobbly side. In the free program, he actually outscored Tanaka technically, though by very little, Tanaka’s presentation scores kept him safe. Once again he went only for the solo quad toe, but he held onto it, and to most of his other jumps, suffering only a double in his three-jump and a stepout on his final jump. Afterwards, he expressed a wish he’d gone for a second quad, but called this his most memorable Nationals.
For last potential Olympic contenders Daisuke Murakami and Ryuju Hino, the bags were far more mixed. Murakami managed a short with a quad salchow, if a double in his combination. He even landed the first quad salchow in the free. But then he singled his second attempt at it, and later doubled the salchow in his three-jump. Add a couple more bobbles, and he finished fifth, just behind Kazuki Tomono. He too tried three quad salchows, landing only the one in combination in the free. He also tried a triple axel with both a triple toe and two doubles, rotating only the latter. All easier jumps he landed. Ryuju Hino, meanwhile, was done in by a bad tenth-place short. He fought back with a fourth-place free where he had no problem landing everything. But he never tried any quadruple jumps, and it could only get him up to seventh.
With only two Olympic berths and half a dozen contenders, we knew the ladies was going to be a bloodbath. Still, the podium that ultimately happened was not one anyone saw coming. Except for the top spot on it; Satoko Miyahara won her fourth straight title as expected. She skated two beautiful programs where the only real problem in each was the failure to rotate both jumps in the triple lutz-triple toe. Which actually made her the only lady in the top twelve in the short not to land her difficult triple-triple, though for the others, some of their solo jumps were another matter. In fact, in the short program none of the top names were completely flawless, though two of them came within an eyelash of it.
Being one of those two allowed young Kaori Sakamoto to shock for the silver medal. She even won the short program over Miyahara, if only by a fraction of a point. After half a season as the senior level, it turns out the fall has done a great deal for her artistically, and she let it all shine in a short program where she and her backloaded jumps did just fine, even if her final spin had a dodgy moment in it:
Her free program wasn’t quite the same level of magic. She underrotated her triple flip-triple toe there, and her presentation remained a touch juniorish. But landing the rest of her jumps, including a double axel-triple toe-double toe, got her fourth in the free skate, just behind two ladies far more behind her, and she held on. When only the National champion was guaranteed an Olympic berth, officials had to consider overnight whether they’d send her, but they decided to let her go to Korea, if not to the World Championships.
It probably helped her cause that bronze went to a girl twenty-one days too young for either the Olympics or Worlds. Rika Kihira was almost through a knockout short with a triple axel when she doubled her lutz, leaving her fifth. Her second place long program wasn’t unlike. She landed two more triple axels, one with a triple toe. Towards the end she also had a loop go wrong. She squeaked out the medal a little more than a point ahead of Wakaba Higuchi. She was done in by a singled axel in the short and doubled salchow in the free, and also only rotating one of the triple lutz-triple toe attempts in her free. It cost her an Olympic berth, but the fourth place finish did ultimately get her a World one.
Third in the free was Mai Mihara. A fall on an underrotated axel in the short had already taken her out completely. She nearly pulled off one of her perfect free skates, but after rotating the lutz in her triple-triple, she didn’t rotate it in her three-jump. She could only finish fifth, ahead of Rika Hongo and Marin Honda. Hongo had the other almost-perfect short, with only an advisory edge call to dispute. But while she managed the same three-jump as Sakamoto in the free, she too underrotated the triple flip-triple toe, plus she underrotated another jump and fell on a third. Honda stumbled on her loop in the short, and her free had two doubles, an underrotation, and no triple-triple.
Pairs and Ice Dance
Japanese Nationals had three pairs this year, after top pair Sumire Suto & Francois Boudreau-Audet pulled out, and five ice dance teams. Unfortunately only the free programs will be broadcast, and that not until tomorrow.
Though they earned what later became the final pairs berth at Nebelhorn, Suto & Boudreau-Audet could never have used it, because he can’t get Japanese citizenship. That was already going to be Miu Suzuki & Ryuichi Kihara, and they won their first national title by a very comfortable margin. They did pull off one very remarkable thing: side by side triple lutzs in their short program, though the scoring protocols make clear that had issues elsewhere. The lutzs in the free have an advisory edge call and don’t look like they were done very well. Nor does it look like the throws went well, with a clear fall on the throw lutz, though it seems they landed their three-jump, at least.
Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed earned their Olympic berth at Nebelhorn themselves, and were never challenged for it, or for their third title here. Their short dance seems to have gone smoothly. Their free dance might have not had the best twizzles, though, and silver medalists Misato Komatsubara & Timothy Koleto even claimed the highest technical tariff for the segment. Though Muramoto & Reed still clearly outskated them, as would be expected consider the two teams’ respective levels.
View full results here.
Olympic and ISU Championship Teams
The ladies were the only place where there was a question of whether the national results would determine the Olympic team, once Yuzuru Hanyu was medically byed into both the Olympics and World Championships. The champions all qualified automatically anyway, and Keiji Tanaka getting the third berth wasn’t in debate either. Naming Wakaba Higuchi rather than Kaori Sakamoto to the World team were the only other way the Japanese federation deviated from the results for either of these teams. Top pairs team Sumire Suto & Francois Boudreau-Audet didn’t get anything.
Hanyu, however, is not going to the Four Continents; Mura did manage to win himself a place alongside Uno and Tanaka for that one. Her fifth place also got Mai Mihara a place on that team, alongside Satoko Miyhara and Sakamoto. All countries get three berths in all disciplines, but with still no byes, Miu Suzuki & Ryuichi Kihara will be joined by both the other two pairs teams that competed here, Narumi Takahashi & Ryo Shibata and Riku Miura & Shoya Ichihashi. Likewise Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed will be joined by fellow medalists Misato Komatsubara & Timothy Koleto and Rikako Fukase & Aru Tateno.
For their Junior World Team, Japan went entirely with skaters still competing on the junior level internationally. That meant their top junior man Mitsuki Sumoto, who finished sixth, will be joined by Sena Miyake, who finished eleventh. Rika Kihira lead the ladies team, of course, joined by Yuhana Yokoi, who finished eighth, and Mako Yamashita, who finished tenth. They don’t have any junior ice dance teams to send this year, but they are sending Miura & Ichihashi.