A Coaching Change and Another Retirement Out of Japan
Marin Honda to train under Rafael Arutunian; Narumi Takahashi retires.
It was a good year for Japanese skating. Their two big men, Yuzuru Hanyu and Shoma Uno, claimed gold and silver at the Olympics. When only Uno went to Worlds, he sadly blew a chance to win when he fell three times, but it was the kind of men’s competition where he still ended up with silver. They could send only two ladies to the Olympics and Worlds, but Wakaba Higuchi and Satoko Miyahara went 2-3 at the latter. Their couples fields are traditionally weaker. But this year, their top ice dance team, Kana Muramoto & Chris Reed, made history for Asian ice dance when they made the podium at Four Continents.
Still, it was never going to be a kind season to the Japanese ladies, especially when, with Miyahara always heavily favored for the Olympics, so many of them were competing for only one berth. They’ll have three to Worlds again next year. But they’ll likely have more competition for them, with no obvious candidates for retirement, and more ladies becoming old enough, including the National bronze medalist. One expects over the summer many of them may take measures to improve their prospects, especially those who didn’t do as well as they’d hoped last season.
Sure enough, one of their top ladies has already announced a coaching change. But that wasn’t the only news coming out of Japan. This was a week where retirements were made official, including Takahiko Mura, though we pretty much knew he was out when he didn’t replace Hanyu at Worlds. And another was also announced this week that is news.
Honda to Train Under Arutunian
Over the past week or so, rumors have floated around about a coaching change. Now it’s confirmed, with helpful fans providing English translations so the world can know: Marin Honda has left coach Mie Hamada to work with Rafael Arutunian.
It’s the kind of coaching change that very often happens after a disappointing season, and Honda certainly had one. She came off a highly successful final junior season, with some predicting her to make the Olympic team. Not only did she fail to do so, she struggled with bad skates, culminating in a devastating seventh-place finish at Japanese Nationals. Meanwhile, Hamada has gone after her when interviewed, saying her work ethic isn’t strong enough. If she’s speaking now of Arutunian being strict, she’s probably hoping his harder style will drive her to improve.
His recent successes probably also increased his appeal. He took two men to the Olympics this year; one of them just became World Champion. Ashley Wagner may now be winding down, but the World medal she won two years ago remains to his credit, she remains a significant figure also from his group, and even when she passed on Worlds, the next lady in line who went instead was also his! It might also appeal to her that he coached Japanese legend Mao Asada for a year and a half, during her early glory days.
The question remains whether any of that makes him the right coach for her. We may find out next season.
Narumi Takahashi Latest Retirement
Some of the skaters who announced their retirements this week did so after successful appearances at the World Championships. Others were not so lucky. The latest, announcing yesterday, was someone whose successes ended when she chose the Olympics over a good partner. Narumi Takahashi has made it official: she is done. She had already been announced as joining the Japanese Olympic Committee.
She was once half of Narumi Takahashi & Mervin Tran, by far the most successful pairs team Japan has had. The two of them had enough personality to attract fans quickly after they first teamed up in 2007, and they were able to keep up with the top teams in the World when they skated well. In 2012, they even won a World medal, Japan’s only World pairs medal to date:
But that proved their final season together. After withdrawing from the Grand Prix the following fall due to injury, the pair was suddenly announced as broken up days before Japanese Nationals. Tran then revealed on Twitter it was Takahashi who had left him. The official reason was irreconcilable differences in their approach to training. But most doubt that’s the case. It seemed more likely she’d ended it because she wanted to go to the Olympics, and it was impossible for the Canadian Tran to get Japanese citizenship.
The Japanese federation helped with the partner search, and the next season she was skating with former singles skater Ryuichi Kihara. But they were a far inferior pair, only even able to qualify Japan the first alternate berth, and even when they ultimately got in, they finished only 18th. The partnership lasted only one more season after that. After a failed attempt to team up with another foreign skater, she teamed up with Ryo Shibata, another former singles skater. They were even weaker, and in the end competed together for only a year and a half, with their last competition being Japanese Nationals last December.
Even if it meant never competing at the Olympics, one feels she could’ve accomplished far more had she stayed with Tran. Nevertheless, she did make history while she was with him, and accomplished much. And in her new position, her contributions to Japanese sport aren’t over yet, either.
What Shibata’s plans are right now we don’t know. He may well also end up retiring.